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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, March 7, 2024


Mossmorran (Just Transition)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I ask members of the public who have been visiting to hear our proceedings this lunchtime to leave the gallery quietly and quickly, please, because we are about to continue our business. I would appreciate your co-operation. Thank you very much indeed.

We move to the next item of business, which is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-11697, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on a site-specific just transition for Mossmorran. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that the Mossmorran petrochemical site, in the Mid Scotland and Fife region, which comprises of Shell’s Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) Plant and ExxonMobil’s Fife Ethylene Plant, is responsible for nearly 10% of Scotland’s industrial emissions; notes the view that limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C and well below 2°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, will require rapid and sustained reductions in emissions across all sectors; understands that industry is the second-highest emitting sector in Scotland, and notes the view that a worker-led just transition for the sector is essential for reaching Scotland’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2045; notes the view that industrial decarbonisation plans cannot omit emissions from Mossmorran, and that a decarbonisation pathway for the site needs to be identified collaboratively with operators, workers, unions, and local and national governments at the earliest opportunity; understands that the two Mossmorran plants directly employ approximately 250 workers, and periodically many more through short-term maintenance contracts, and notes the belief that the process of just transition for Scotland’s industrial sites needs to be worker-led and delivered in a way that leaves nobody behind.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I thank members who have signed the motion and who are joining me in the chamber to debate the future of the Mossmorran petrochemical site. I have been working on the issue since being re-elected to Parliament in 2016, initially focusing on the noise pollution caused by flaring affecting neighbouring communities, then moving on to the health and safety risks experienced by workers. Now, I am working on the prospect of delivering a just transition for the site. I welcome the work of other members on the issue, including yourself, Deputy Presiding Officer, in your role as the constituency MSP.

The latest research into North Sea oil and gas that was commissioned by the Scottish Government shows a rapidly declining basin. The decline in fossil fuel reserves is irrefutable, and our choice now is whether we accept a slow withering of skills and expertise or grasp the opportunity to safeguard workers’ jobs and maximise the growth of employment opportunities in both renewables and industrial decarbonisation. As the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, stated, we need

“climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

We do not have the luxury of focusing on just one region or just one industrial site. Workers across Scotland, including at Mossmorran, deserve the assurance that their jobs, too, will be safeguarded in our transition to net zero.

Any credible plan for industrial decarbonisation in Scotland must tackle emissions at Mossmorran. The two plants there directly employ approximately 250 workers, and many other workers are employed on a short-term basis from other parts of Scotland and overseas. The United Kingdom Climate Change Committee reported that the industry is the second-highest emitting sector in Scotland, with the Mossmorran site, operated by Shell and ExxonMobil, being responsible for nearly 10 per cent of Scotland’s total climate change emissions.

In 2022, I commissioned Transition Economics to produce a report on Mossmorran, which considered decarbonisation pathways for the site. Those included carbon capture and storage, blue hydrogen and bioethanol. All the decarbonisation options had risks and trade-offs, but it was clear that a fairer, greener future was possible for Mossmorran, its workers and the local community. The report concluded that planning for the net zero future of the site needed to begin as quickly as possible, with operators, workers, unions and Governments brought together around the table.

In October last year I organised a summit facilitated by Dr Daria Shapovalova, co-ordinator of the just transition lab at the University of Aberdeen. That brought together workers, unions, non-governmental organisations and the just transition commissioners in Lochgelly to start the conversation. I wanted to understand what their priorities were for the just transition plan at Mossmorran. All the participants called for a meaningful transition for the site, to be led first and foremost by workers and properly funded by both industry and Government. They cautioned against “just transition” being used as an empty slogan and warned us about what might happen if there was a further delay to real, tangible actions. The workers and unions highlighted the urgency of engaging with operators to collaborate on the development and delivery of a plan for the site.

The operators of the Mossmorran plant, Shell and ExxonMobil, are among the world’s largest oil and gas operators, reporting profits in the billions just last month, but we have not yet seen from them the level of commitment needed to make a genuine transition at Mossmorran happen. The operators have signed up to the Acorn carbon capture and storage cluster, and we are awaiting progress on the bid in track 2 that could allow Grangemouth and Mossmorran to feed in. Questions remain about the effectiveness of CCS, but if the project can meet the higher standards for capture, it could provide a major part of the decarbonisation pathway.

However, in a meeting that I held with both operators shortly after that first summit, it was clear that there was a lack of communication between them and the workforce on those matters. Where does Mossmorran sit in their global portfolios of sites awaiting CCS and other investments? What opportunities would there be for the workforce in skills development or retraining under such a plan? So many questions remain unanswered, and the operators still need to convince the workforce and the community that decarbonisation will actually happen.

Just this week, ExxonMobil’s chief executive blamed the public for the failure to tackle the climate emergency and claimed that ExxonMobil and other oil and gas giants

“have opportunities to make fuels with lower carbon in it, but people aren’t willing to spend the money to do that.”

However, it is painfully obvious to me that it is those who make the mega profits from oil and gas who are unwilling to spend enough of them on the transition to a greener future that they have to make.

We had plans to host the second summit tomorrow. It would have welcomed all the participants from our initial summit as well as the site operators, Fife Council and national Governments. However, despite the welcome interest from the minister and Government officials in attending the summit, the site operators—ExxonMobil and Shell—have declined our invitation. Their decision not to come to the table is disappointing. How can we have faith that private companies will invest in the just transition that we so desperately need if they fail to do the bare minimum and join the conversation?

What we have seen recently at Grangemouth should be enough of a warning to us all. We cannot sit on our hands. The future of Mossmorran cannot be decided behind closed doors; it needs to be planned early and openly.

Earlier this week, we agreed that we will go ahead with another summit later this year. We will keep working with Unite the union, the GMB, just transition commissioners and the Scottish Trades Union Congress to ensure that everyone is around the table. I publicly extend an invitation again to the minister, other MSPs and the two site operators to come and be part of that conversation.

The Government’s transition work at Grangemouth has been welcome, but it must be accelerated to other sites across Scotland where emissions are vast and the biggest single steps towards net zero must be made. We have no time to waste. It is our duty to map out the alternative future for sites such as Mossmorran, and we must do so in a fair and just manner that leaves no workers or local communities behind. Inaction is not an option. I will continue to take that duty seriously, and I hope that many members who are joining me in the chamber will do the same.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the motion to the chamber to let us discuss an issue that is of paramount importance to our country, our environment and our future.

The Mossmorran petrochemical site is a significant contributor to Scotland’s industrial emissions—it accounts for nearly 10 per cent of our national total. That figure is not just a statistic; it is a call for urgent action in our journey towards a sustainable and resilient Scotland.

The Paris agreement, which aims to limit global temperature increases to well below 2°C, and to 1.5°C, is not merely an international obligation; it is a moral imperative for Scotland. To meet those ambitious goals, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions across all sectors, including the industry in question, are non-negotiable. As the second-highest emitting sector in our country, the industrial sector’s transformation is not just necessary—it is inevitable.

At the heart of the transformation is the Mossmorran site. That site, which is located just outside my constituency, embodies our industrial strengths and our environmental challenges. The path forward is clear. We must identify a decarbonised pathway for Mossmorran—one that is developed collaboratively with operators, workers, unions and local and national Government. That pathway is not just about reducing emissions; it is about setting a precedent for how industrial Scotland adapts to the realities of the climate emergency.

The concept of a just transition is central to this discussion. It is a principle that ensures that the shift towards a low-carbon economy is fair and inclusive and leaves no one behind. For the workers at Mossmorran and, indeed, workers across Fife and Scotland’s industrial sector, that transition is not just a challenge; it is an opportunity for sustainable jobs, for innovation, and for a healthier environment and healthier communities.

With its 250 direct employees and many more people who are engaged through short-term maintenance contracts, the Mossmorran site stands as a microcosm of the broader challenges that our industrial workforce faces with decarbonisation. Those workers are not mere cogs in the industrial machine; they are skilled and dedicated individuals whose knowledge and expertise are invaluable assets to our journey towards net zero. That is why I very much welcome the announcement that the Scottish Government will boost the just transition fund by an extra £25 million to ensure a fair and just transition for the energy sector.

As many will know, my Kirkcaldy constituency and the surrounding areas in Fife have seen great industrial, economic and societal changes over the past century. The history of that area is deeply interwoven with the coal-mining industry and, for better or worse, we are familiar with the challenges that inevitably arise with changes in the energy landscape.

The legacy of the closure of the mines in Kirkcaldy and throughout Scotland is well known. The blow was not just economic but cultural and social. It left behind a legacy of unemployment and social challenges, and a community grappling with its identity and future. Therefore, the process of transition to low-carbon operations at Mossmorran, as at all other industrial sites in Scotland, must be led by those who know it best: the workers. A worker-led transition is the only way to ensure that the move to green jobs is done in a way that respects the dignity, expertise and needs of our workforce.

That transition will not be easy. It requires substantial investment not just in technology but in people. As a former mechanical engineer in the oil and gas industry, I am acutely aware of the importance of training and reskilling programmes—which must be at the heart of our just transition strategy—in ensuring that Scotland’s workforce is ready to meet the demands of a low-carbon economy. In addition, we must ensure that the new green jobs are secure, well paid and accessible to all—in particular, to those who are currently employed in high-emission industries.

The role of collaboration in the process cannot be overstated. The decarbonisation of Mossmorran and the industrial sector more broadly must be a joint effort between government, industry, workers and the community. Each stakeholder brings unique insights and resources to the table, making our collective action stronger and more effective.

It is also crucial to remember the communities that live in the shadow of Mossmorran. Fife, with its rich history and vibrant community, finds itself at the forefront of Scotland’s journey towards a greener future. Any transition plans must include measures to protect those communities from environmental and health impacts, so that they, too, benefit from Scotland’s green transformation.

The journey towards net zero in Scotland by 2045 is filled with challenges but also with unparalleled opportunities. The decarbonisation of Mossmorran represents a crucial step in that journey, serving as a blueprint for how we can transform Scotland’s industry and landscape in a way that is sustainable, equitable and just.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is an important debate, because, as we have seen from the announcement that was made on Grangemouth, the facilities will not be around forever. The planning process for what is next for the workforce and the local area needs to take place now, so that, in theory, we can have a smooth transition from one industry to the next.

I start by thanking the workforce of Mossmorran. The plant plays a key role in meeting the existing UK energy needs, given that 80 per cent of UK homes still rely on natural gas to keep them warm. However, the work at Mossmorran goes towards not just heating but the production of tyres, deodorants, cooking fuel, car windscreens, food packaging, detergents and anaesthetic for medical procedures. We therefore have much to be thankful for.

That demonstrates why having sites such as Mossmorran in our oil and gas industry is so incredibly important. However, that is about not just the production of vital goods but the highly skilled, well-paid jobs that contribute to local economies.

I think that everyone in the chamber agrees that we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and that will take time. What we sometimes disagree on is how we get there. Mark Ruskell takes a hard stance against any new licences in the North Sea. That position is shared by Labour and the SNP. However, I feel that, while there is still a demand, we should focus on reducing that demand and on ensuring that our consumption of oil and gas products is done in a way that causes least harm to the environment.

That is why it is important to note the work that Shell, especially, has done to decarbonise the yard—albeit that I am sure that it can go further. The yard will always be a large consumer of energy and producer of emissions, so doing more to reduce those emissions will impact significantly on Scotland’s overall emissions. Mark Ruskell made a good point about bringing together all the players to develop a decarbonisation pathway.

I have not been to Mossmorran, but I met Petroineos at Grangemouth and was impressed by how much work it was doing on decarbonisation—it had a huge programme, with huge investment to match. Maybe Mossmorran has the same. If so, that is great, but maybe those plans should be shared more widely. It is strange that Shell and ExxonMobil are not engaging in the process that Mark Ruskell set out.

Mr Ruskell was also right to highlight the contractor workforce in his motion. Too often, it is only the direct workforce that is taken into account when planning for a site’s future, but we need to consider the wider economic impact of a facility. That goes even further than the contractors to the indirectly related jobs in nearby communities—taxi drivers, hairdressers, bartenders and teachers—which have to be taken into account when we look at a transition to make sure that no one is left behind.

A Unite the union survey of workers in Grangemouth showed that only 3 per cent of the workers expressed confidence in the Government’s just transition plans for oil and gas workers, so there is clearly more that can be done. It will be good to hear from the minister what discussions the Government has had with Shell and ExxonMobil about the future of those facilities. In the case of Grangemouth, it appears that the Government was warned about what was coming by Petroineos but failed to get ahead of the game and start the planning process for the workforce earlier.

In conclusion, I agree with Mark Ruskell that planning for the future of Mossmorran and the community that depends on it must start now. I hope that that can be done in a cross-party, consensual way, with everyone at the table. We owe it to the community and the workers of Mossmorran to ensure that there is a safe economic future. I look forward to hearing from the Government what progress has been made to date.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. Ultimately, I believe that the debate should focus less on the specific Mossmorran site and more on a Scotland-wide—indeed, a UK-wide—approach to decarbonisation and the just transition. Put simply, we will not achieve the just transition that Scotland needs if we continue to approach the issue on a case-by-case, site-specific basis, without greater effort to take in the big picture. Policy without strategy will lead only to failure, and I am afraid that policy without strategy and action often seems to be the order of the day.

It is clear that, if we are to meet our climate targets in Scotland, we need both the Scottish and UK Governments to work together with a joint focus, a joined-up strategy and the clarity and consistency that will secure the investment that is needed to reach those goals. There also needs to be further clarity on what is meant by a just transition. In my discussions with trade unions and employers, whether they are in the oil and gas sector or the renewables sector, they have told me that the greatest challenge that they now face is the massive shortage of skilled labour across all sectors. This week, I was in Methil, where it is hoped that a lot of work can be done in the renewables sector, but the ability to get skilled labour is a massive issue there. Whether you are a steel welder in Mossmorran or a welder in Methil, there will be major difficulties if we cannot get the welders or the technicians.

It seems to me that, in many of the companies that I have spoken to, the idea of decarbonisation and a just transition has not been met with much resistance. However, they are clear that they are relying on the Scottish Government and the UK Government to make the just transition happen. Where there is resistance, I strongly believe that it stems from concerns that the Scottish and UK Governments are not driving the progress that is necessary to make the just transition feasible, despite both Governments paying a lot of lip service to and espousing their green credentials.

I regularly speak to businesses and trade unions that are involved in the sectors that are crucial to the just transition. Unless we move away from the current piecemeal approach, in which bits of policy take the place of long-term strategy, and give the just transition the attention and resources that it demands, businesses cannot plan for the future. The Just Transition Partnership summarised the issues clearly.

Mark Ruskell

I certainly do not disagree with Alex Rowley’s argument that we need an industrial strategy that binds together the two Governments in their work in Scotland with industry. However, does he accept that we need a plan for decarbonising the ethylene production site at Mossmorran, as well as a wider industrial strategy that includes Scotland? Does he accept that that plan has to come from the workers and those who have spent their careers operating the site? They understand the issues intricately, and they know what skills will be required for the transition and what the technical solutions might be.

I can give you the time back, Mr Rowley.

Alex Rowley

It is interesting to hear what the workers I have spoken to are really frightened of. Given the age range in many workforces in the sector, workers are frightened that, when they retire, the skills will go with them. They want a clear industrial strategy that will give young people the opportunities to get those skills and take them forward. The skills agenda and the industrial strategy are key to that, but there has to be certainty from the Scottish and UK Governments about what investment will be made. I will come on to Mark Ruskell’s paper, which sets out some solutions.

The Scottish Government should not start from the assumption that a just transition will just happen one way or another. Much more work needs to be done before we can start to look at site-specific plans, which would do little more than shift away from the Government the responsibility for achieving a just transition.

The Government must play its part if we are to succeed. For example, carbon capture and storage and the use of hydrogen as an energy source have not been deployed swiftly enough. Those two elements are instrumental in the report that Mark Ruskell commissioned.

Companies across the UK are battling over a smaller pool of the skilled labour that needs to be in place if we are to make the just transition happen. Ultimately, contradictions will arise when there is no unifying strategy to rely on. Ministers are considering an application for a new gas plant at Peterhead, which seems to fly in the face of what the Scottish Government has said about achieving net zero by 2045 and which was described at the end of last year as a climate disaster. How does that proposal fit into the just transition that we all say that we desire?

I am deeply passionate about the issue and I want to avoid a climate disaster, so I believe that we have to take action. If we are serious about achieving our climate goals, it is crucial that the Scottish Government, working with the UK Government, gives the subject the time, attention and clarity that are needed.


The Minister for Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work (Gillian Martin)

Like everyone else, I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the debate to the chamber. We have heard insightful and encouraging contributions on the Mossmorran industrial site—not just from Mark Ruskell, who has worked on the issue over the years, as he outlined, but from all members who have spoken today.

I wish that we could have such debates more often. I am finding it difficult to disagree with anything that anyone has said, because we have a shared goal. The just transition of our high-carbon industries needs political consensus, so we all need to get our shoulders behind the wheel and have a shared vision of what we want to achieve. Vast economic opportunities are out there for Scotland if we do that, but there will be economic peril if we do not do that. I am pleased with how the debate has gone, and I hope that such an approach continues into other discussions about the subject.

It is critical to secure a truly just transition for Mossmorran and to work on that with all relevant stakeholders. Everyone has to be in the room—Mark Ruskell is absolutely right about that.

Members are more than familiar with the important contribution that the Mossmorran site makes to the local economy. Douglas Lumsden mentioned that he has never been there; I am going there in the middle of this month, but I also went there in my role before politics, when I was helping Shell to make safety videos. I am aware of how central the site is to the local economy.

Douglas Lumsden made a good point about the wider economic impact. It is not just about the workers at the plant—to whom I pay tribute—but about the wider community. A just transition is never just about one site but is about the impact on the wider community.

It has been mentioned that Mossmorran has a critical role to play in the Scottish cluster and in carbon capture, usage and storage. However, other potential activities could transition the plant, and I am keen to discuss them in detail when I meet ExxonMobil and Shell at Mossmorran later this month.

The Government is committed to achieving a just transition to net zero emissions by 2045. Members know that I was only recently given responsibility for a just transition as well as for energy and fair work. I was delighted to see all those things coming together, because the just transition has been inextricable from my portfolio as energy minister since March last year. Like Alex Rowley, I am passionate about the subject. I come from the north-east, where there has to be a just transition. I recognise that other members across Scotland have key sites in high-carbon sectors that need attention similar to that given to North Sea oil and gas.

I recognise that Mossmorran is responsible for 8.4 per cent of Scotland’s industrial emissions, so we have to consider how to reduce the emissions of the plant as it operates right now. A great deal of work and investment have gone into that already, but we also need to look to the future. For example, there is less demand for plastic packaging. That is driven by consumers and will have a knock-on effect on new operations for Mossmorran.

Alex Rowley talked about being in Methil. I imagine that he was at Harland and Wolff—in fact, I know that he was, because the company told me; I am not psychic. At Harland and Wolff, there is a really interesting situation. The plant is poised and ready to make the jackets for turbines in the North Sea.

Harland and Wolff has a tremendous number of apprentices working with it. I pay tribute to the work of Forth Valley College and Fife College in upskilling the young workforce. It is absolutely right that we utilise the existing workforce’s skills and experience in all our high-emitting industrial sites to help to upskill young people when they come in.

David Torrance

The H100 Fife project, which is in my constituency, is a great example of how hydrogen will be used for heating our homes, which is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Does the minister agree that the partnership between Fife College and Scotland Gas Networks in training the new generation of engineers in hydrogen is a great example that should be replicated across Scotland?

Gillian Martin

I visited H100 in the summer of last year. It is a tremendously exciting project. SGN is working well with the local community in Methil. I know that it has had the amount of subscribers to be part of the project that it hoped for. That is an example of a company working in a community not only to facilitate a just transition but to spread the benefits of that transition among the community. I thank David Torrance for mentioning the project.

David Torrance pointed to not only the importance but the opportunities of reducing emissions from our industries. We cannot ignore those opportunities. That is what a just transition is about. It is sometimes talked about in negative terms, but we have to start talking about it in positive terms. Everything is there for the taking. That is why the UK Government and the Scottish Government have to work together and make investment where it is needed.

I point to some of the investment that we have made. The Scottish industrial energy transformation fund offers match funding for targeted projects. To date, £16 million has been offered in grants as part of a £43 million investment across 27 projects. However, there is more to be done. We have £500 million of just transition money for the north-east, but we also have to look at what we can do to spread the learning from what is happening there. We also need clarity on when the Scottish cluster CCUS project will be given the status that is required for people to make investment decisions.

Douglas Lumsden

The minister mentioned the £500 million just transition fund for the north-east, which is good for a north-east MSP, but I guess that other people who are watching might think, “What about my area?” or, “What about Mossmorran?” What can the Government do to help other areas, not just the north-east?

Gillian Martin

There is a great deal that we can do. The green industrial strategy, which will be rolled out this summer, will address that point. We have to recognise that it is not just in the north-east where there are opportunities, as well as some difficulties if we do not get the just transition right for oil and gas workers. On the wider community, the oil and gas workers in the north-east are linked to the petrochemical workers in Grangemouth and Mossmorran. They are all part of the same sector, so we have to make sure that we include all of them.

Grangemouth has been mentioned. We are working with partners in the Grangemouth future industry board to develop a just transition plan for the industrial cluster that is located there. I want to explain why we are prioritising that at the moment. Grangemouth is a significantly larger cluster and is home to multiple industrial operators. It is our largest port and has significant links to the transport sector. Also, as we all know, decisions are being made about the future of the refinery there.

There will be learning for Mossmorran from that process. We are prioritising Grangemouth at the moment, but that does not mean that we are not looking at what is happening in Mossmorran. That is part of the reason for my visit there. I am interested to hear what plans the operators have for the plant, particularly on low-carbon technologies. I am interested in what they might be doing on hydrogen and in hearing, from their perspective, how they might contribute to carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Our experience from the approach that has been taken in developing the Grangemouth industrial just transition plan has highlighted the importance of comprehensive engagement and planning, and of creating conditions for co-design to succeed.

To go back to something that David Torrance said, I agree 100 per cent that the transition must be worker led. We cannot do this without the engagement and buy-in of the workers and their associated unions. I have had an early conversation with Roz Foyer of the Scottish Trades Union Congress about the just transition element of my portfolio and how I can work more closely and effectively with the unions that work in all the areas concerned. We have been clear that trade union and worker representation will be critical in all our just transition plans, and that is the approach that we have taken in the draft energy strategy and just transition plan. I assure Alex Rowley that his point about a high-level strategic plan will be addressed in the energy strategy and just transition plan, which we will produce early in the summer. We are already adopting the approach that is set out in that draft plan in the just transition plan for Grangemouth.

Before I close, I want to go back to something that Douglas Lumsden said and to my initial point about political consensus. Political consensus is what workers and the public want. We have to steel ourselves and stop making so many political points, because the workers and stakeholders are watching what we do. We need to work in partnership with local authorities, the unions and the workers, and both Governments have to work hand in hand. That includes both Governments putting in significant investment. I would have liked the £28 billion pledge to remain, and I am sure that my Labour colleagues would have liked that, too. I am not making a political point; I am just saying that, if the UK Government changes, I urge Labour colleagues in Scotland to make the point that Scotland must be central to any green investment from the new UK Government.

I can see that the Presiding Officer would like me to finish, so I will leave it there.

That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2.30 pm.

13:34 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—