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Editorial comment

This year’s UN climate change conference, COP28, is well underway in the UAE, following a year of extreme weather patterns and broken climate records. Business leaders, government officials, and climate scientists have gathered to discuss solutions to limit the global temperature rise, as well as the future of fossil fuels. So far, the conference has seen a record number of delegates from the oil and gas industry in attendance this year, as well as the launch of an oil and gas decarbonisation charter, which has been voluntarily signed by over 50 companies. The charter is based around speeding up climate action and making an impact across the sector. Woodside Energy was one of the associations eager to show its support. Meg O’Neill, the company’s CEO, said: “Signing the charter reinforced the company’s existing commitments to reducing carbon and methane emissions and to investing in the products and services customers need, as they do the same.” O’Neil continued: “Signatories to the charter have committed to net zero operations by or before 2050, ending routine flaring by 2030, and near-zero upstream methane emissions.” Oil and gas majors are therefore agreeing to “best practices, goals of emissions reduction, and improved transparency through enhanced measurement, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions,” demonstrating their role in speeding up the transition to cleaner energy.1

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Whilst making efforts to clean up its act in terms of the energy crisis, the industry has also made strides to improve the health and safety of workers. According to the API, the sector is seeing a declining rate of illness and injury, and is becoming increasingly safer.2 While the oilfield, by nature, is a hazardous work place, measures have been taken to mitigate risks to workers through training, information sharing, and ongoing research into safety practices. Where the industry may be lacking, however, is in its approach to the mental health of its workers, with industry professionals stating that a proactive approach to safeguarding not only workers’ physical wellbeing, but also their emotional wellbeing, is vital. Kick Sterkman, Group HSEQ Director, Neptune Energy, recently observed that workers would never be without their hard hat or protective overalls to shield them from harm; why then are there not the same precautions in place to combat the mental challenges of workers, should they arise?3

In a recent report from International SOS involving thousands of oil and gas workers in the UK, poor mental health was found to be the number one reason for sickness absence.4 A study from Oxford Academic also uncovered that oil and gas industry workers appear to suffer from anxiety and depression more acutely than the rest of society, which could be due to a number of stressors within the occupation, such as isolation, intense pressure and workload, and fatigue from working long hours.5 The longstanding view of the oil and gas industry as a male-dominated and ‘macho’ sector has also done little to encourage workers to be open about their problems.

The sector may, however, be starting to turn a corner. The International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) has created a mental health and wellbeing charter, which includes contributions from psychologists, contractors and operators, and hopes to improve support for the mental health of onshore and offshore workers. Through work such as this, frameworks are created that can be followed across the industry, offering new approaches that could bring mental health education, training and improved awareness to the fore.6 It is time that the oil and gas industry underwent a cultural makeover in order to support itself from the inside out.

*References are available upon request.

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