The latest economic data shows the six fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. are tied to oil and gas production. By contrast, the development of solar and wind energy has produced a fraction of the number of petroleum jobs, despite government mandates and other incentives for renewable energy.
Oil-shale drilling in North Dakota and Montana is booming. Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia are seeing an explosion in natural gas production. And New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska and other Western states are adding a significant number of extraction jobs.
An analysis of the latest quarterly employment data by EMSI, an Idaho-based economics firm, shows that the six fastest-growing jobs from 2010 to 2011 are related to petroleum production: they include service unit operators, derrick operators, rotary drill operators, and roustabouts. Each is forecast to grow from 9 percent to 11percent this year, in the worst economy since the end of World War II.
Big gains are also expected in a number of other petroleum-related jobs — wellhead pumpers, all other extraction workers, geological and petroleum technicians. Altogether, nine of the top 11 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. are tied to oil and gas production.
What’s behind this surge in jobs? Certainly a need for increased domestic energy production is a factor. But perhaps more important is advances in drilling technology, in particular hydraulic fracturing used in combination with horizontal drilling to reach large amounts of oil and natural gas in shale.
Without a tax on natural gas extraction, Pennsylvania has become a hub of energy production. More than 3,000 wells have been drilled since 2008. In the past three years, Pennsylvania has added more than 15,000 jobs in mining, quarrying and oil and gas production, a 41percent rise. Only Texas and Oklahoma have added more of those jobs in the same period.
Indeed, no other group of industries has shown greater job growth. Since 2006, the oil and gas industry alone has added more than 431,000 jobs nationally, a 113 percent jump, and is expected to add tens of thousands of more jobs this year.
But such improvement in job growth has only scratched the surface of what is possible. Imagine the effect on employment if the Obama administration expedited the issuance of drilling permits for oil and gas extraction in New Mexico, Colorado and elsewhere in the West. Lifting a moratorium on exploratory drilling in new offshore areas in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic would create droves of jobs.
And granting approval for construction of the planned Keystone pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada to oil refineries in Texas would generate many jobs, as would other additions to the nation’s network of pipelines.
Everyone, of course, wants jobs. But government restrictions on drilling tend to drive out investment. You need investment jobs creation.
Jim Constantopoulos is a professor of geology and chairs the department of physical sciences at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be reached at Jim.Constantopoulos@enmu.edu