For oil and gas workers, 'just transitioning' can be a mental health burden
‘You're going to have that imposter syndrome’ if you don’t know how to transition out, says worker
For Alberta energy sector workers such as Chad Miller, the term "just transition" gives the wrong impression of what's happening in their industry.
The pipelines facilities consultant says the term is loaded, and discounts the work their field is already doing to be more sustainable.
"I think that's the wrong term to use actually because we are transitioning already, into renewable resources as well [as] innovative technologies" he told The Current's Matt Galloway.
The term has been a lightning rod for recent debate, due in part to the federal government's promise of a "just transition" bill.
The legislation proposal is being worked on in part by Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who describes the bill as an action plan for sustainable jobs.
But while the government says the bill is supposed to help oil and gas workers move into green energy jobs, some oil-producing provinces have criticized the term "just transition."
"When I hear the words 'just transition,' it signals eliminating jobs. And for Alberta, that is a non-starter," Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said in a video uploaded to Twitter.
It was a leap of faith to leave the oil and gas sector and enter the lithium world. But I just did it and I just transitioned.-Amanda Hall, CEO of Summit Nanotech
Miller says using more accurate terminology could go a long way.
"I think that we are on track ... in the next few years to become quite more energy efficient with the carbon capture," he said. "So I think the [better] terminology would be, you know, adapt. [Adapt] into change, I guess, is what what we're doing."
Ken Wallace, a geologist working in oil and gas, says the "just transition" language overlooks the reality of how the world is currently meeting its energy needs, and what it'll take to scale up our access to renewable energy.
"This is a long-term game and we're going to have to be realistic about it," he said, noting that capturing, storing and transmitting cleaner sources of energy will rely on non-renewable resources.
"And so when we mine all the copper we need for the wind turbines and solar panels and the electric wiring, we're going to need a lot more of everything to go with this."
'A leap of faith'
Former oil and gas worker Amanda Hall made the transition into renewable energy. She's the founder and CEO of lithium extraction company Summit Nanotech.
"It was a leap of faith to leave the oil and gas sector and enter the lithium world. But I just did it and I just transitioned," she told Galloway.
"There's always going to be workers going into [oil and gas], but there's another growing market out there that we can just join."
Although Hall calls transitioning "the best thing I've ever done," she says there's still a lot of value that exists in the oil and gas sector.
"We can't stop supplying energy, especially in a country like Canada, where we freeze to death," she said. "Renewables can't come on fast enough to bridge that gap."
"So we have to continue working on innovations in the oil and gas sector while we transition and ramp up the renewables."
The right education
Miller has been involved in the oil and gas industry for 25 years. He also created a Facebook group called Oilfield Dads. He said part of the concern in the group is about what the bill — and the term — means for their education.
"I think a lot of it is challenging," he said. "You have to educate yourself, you have to go back to school."
If you do one job for many, many years, and you don't know how to transition out, you're going to have that imposter syndrome.-Chad Miller, pipelines facilities consultant
Miller said some fathers in the group are long-time blue collar workers, and they don't have the educational background to transition into new jobs asking for qualifications such as master's degrees.
Mental health implications
This uncertainty weighs on the psyche of a lot of the group members.
"If you do one job for many, many years, and you don't know how to transition out, you're going to have that imposter syndrome."
Miller believes educating blue collar workers about what opportunities renewable energy might provide can go a long way to combating those concerns.
"If you have the right tools and opportunities to help each other, it's not going to be that big of a scare," he said.
Miller said it's also important for people in the industry, like himself, to take a step back and reflect on how they can contribute to renewable resource sectors.
"Just as my wife always says, just take little bites and take it for what it's worth and the opportunities will come for you. It's just a matter of if you want to change."
Produced by Julie Crysler and Allison Dempster.