Asymptomatic testing will be the key “ask from government” to help get thousands of people back to work in the North Sea, according to an industry boss.
Between major pipeline shutdowns and normal maintenance operations, work for 8,000 – 14,000 jobs this year was “scooched to the right” amid the Covid-19 outbreak, according to Stuart Payne, supply chain director at the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA).
Not all of that can be retrieved, however the OGA and trade body Oil and Gas UK are looking at what might be recovered this year and in 2021 to support the supply chain.
Key to that will be asymptomatic testing for the virus, Mr Payne said, to ensure a safe environment and halt the spread offshore.
“How could you try to form a maintenance opportunity in 2020, and in 2021, that could deliver real value for a lot of people in the supply chain? It could keep a lot of jobs going and a lot of companies going.
“In short, the ask from government is going to be around asymptomatic Covid testing.
“Could we create a safe environment, in conversation with the Health and Safety Executive, which allows people to be tested both before they leave, when they’re there, when they come back, to create that bridge between those two?”
Major work on the SAGE and Forties Pipeline Systems has been deferred due to Covid-19, with oil firms seeking to stop non-essential work to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as cut costs.
Speaking during an industry webinar, Mr Payne said the OGA is in discussions with operators about which capital projects could be safely brought back up, as well talks with the government around taking “advantage of this moment” for lucrative decommissioning work.
At present there is a provision for up to 100 asymptomatic offshore workers to be tested daily at a UK Government-backed centre at Aberdeen Airport, however there have been calls for wider testing.
North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald has called for the Scottish Government to support the initiative, while his Conservative colleague Liam Kerr asked Nicola Sturgeon for an update on “the hold up” for testing for asymptomatic offshore workers at First Minister’s Questions this week.
She replied: “I’m pretty sure Liam Kerr has heard me many, many times, because I know I’ve said it many, many times, talk about the issues of testing of asymptomatic people. Because we have more evidence about asymptomatic transmission, we are expanding testing of those but focusing on care home workers and residents in particular.
“All key workers that are part of the critical infrastructure of the country have access to testing when they are symptomatic and indeed their wider families do, but we will continue to have an approach to testing that is based on evidence and advice, both on the clinical benefits but also on the efficacy of the testing and we will continue to keep parliament updated.”
Oil and gas workers are classed as “priority two” for testing, as essential workers for critical national infrastructure, but behind frontline NHS employees and care home workers.
Last week an exemption from quarantine measures for oil workers travelling into the UK country was announced, due to begin on June 8.
Some oil firms have booked private testing via The Aberdeen Clinic. While the results are shared with Health Protection Scotland, the scheme is not government-backed or endorsed by Oil and Gas UK.