Amid Price Plunge, North American Oil and Gas Workers Seek Transition to Renewable Sector

Oil sands boilermakers Joseph Bacsu and Lliam Hildebrand, and oil sands electrician Adam Cormier during their first press event Edmonton, Canada. (Photo: Mychaylo Prystupa)Oil sands boilermakers Joseph Bacsu and Lliam Hildebrand, and oil sands electrician Adam Cormier during their first press event Edmonton, Canada. (Photo: Mychaylo Prystupa)

Lliam Hildebrand says he had a moment of clarity during an apprenticeship at a steel-fabricating shop in Victoria, Canada. He was learning the metal-working skills he would need to become a boilermaker, to eventually move on to work on the many steel vessels — including furnaces, pipelines, “cokers” and “exchangers” — that make up the oil industry’s vast infrastructure in Alberta, Canada’s oil sands fields.

During that apprenticeship, Hildebrand would come into the fabricating shop and see a pressure vessel on one side of the shop being made for the oil sands, and at the same time, on the other side of the shop, his own project — a wind farm weather station. Hildebrand says he walked into the shop one morning, and the contrast between the two ventures struck him sharply. That was the moment when he realized, “We are the trade — the building trade — that’s really going to help address [climate change].”

From then on he has felt as though he’s been living two lives. Coming out of his apprenticeship, he started looking for jobs in the renewable sector, but was unable to find work. Six years ago, he reluctantly decided to apply his skills where there were plenty of jobs: the Canadian oil sands fields.

But after years of working in an industry that one top climate scientist has called “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” Hildebrand came to realize that he was not the only oil worker in Alberta who felt “guilty about developing the infrastructure that is creating climate change.”

Opportunity in the Oil Plunge

Last spring, when oil prices began to fall, Hildebrand banded together with like-minded coworkers and began building an oil and gas worker-led nonprofit called “Iron & Earth,” which officially launched this month during a press conference in Edmonton. Through the nonprofit, the oil sands workers…

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