The economy is booming, but that doesn’t mean it’s all Easy Street for American families. Costs for household essentials continue to rise — with expenses for health care up 73% over 10 years, education costs increasing 58% and food bills rising 26%.
There’s one important exception: energy costs. Household energy expenseshave dropped 10.5%, and Americans saved $300 billion in 2016 compared to 2010. As recently as 2011, media reports were blaring headlines like “$4 Gas Might be Here to Stay.” With the United States now leading the world in production of natural gas and oil, families are enjoying welcome savings on their utility bills and at the gas pump – savings that help them afford other priorities that keep getting pricier.
For a growing number of American workers, the U.S. natural gas and oil industry doesn’t just mean lower bills, it means fatter paychecks. A 2018 Bloomberg report called the industry “the best bet for U.S. workers” thanks to its “paycheck potency” — with salary levels that “topped all sectors, including utilities, tech and health care” in recent rankings. Non-retail station jobs in the natural gas and oil industry pay an average annual wage of over $100,000 — nearly $50,000 more than the U.S. average. Studies show natural gas and oil industry workers earn more across all education levels, degree majors, gender and race/ethnicity groups, and occupation types.
The diversity of career opportunities means there’s something for everyone – across a variety of fields and education levels. Geologists, engineers, rig workers, welders, electricians, communications professionals, truck drivers, environmental consultants, business analysts, computer technicians – you name it.
And opportunities are growing. The industry supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs across the economy — 2.7 additional jobs for each direct natural gas and oil job. With 40 percent or more of the industry’s worker base expected to retire by 2035, there’s never been a better time to join the energy workforce. Studies project we’ll see nearly 1.9 million job opportunities over that period in the oil and natural gas and petrochemical industries – with 707,000 jobs, or 38% of the total, projected to be filled by African American and Hispanic workers.
We consider that number a floor, not a ceiling. One of our top priorities as an industry is building a more diverse workforce, and ensuring these opportunities reach every community.
One of the biggest barriers our research has identified is lack of awareness about the opportunities in our industry. We’re partnering with a number of organizations to change that. Through coordinated efforts with groups like the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and others, we’re working to spread the word that the industry is hiring.
And we’re building. Constructing the pipelines and other infrastructure needed to keep pace with record energy production – and move affordable energy to homes and businesses — can support up to 1 million-plus jobs per year. That means construction workers, welders, pipe fitters. We partner with the National Building Trades Unions to train workers for these good jobs.
The industry also needs workers with backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. In coordination with these organizations and many more, companies sponsor and participate in job fairs, hands-on educational labs, science fairs and teacher training.
As great as the opportunities are, it’s not all about the paycheck. America’s energy professionals are part an industry that fuels the economy and powers daily life. It’s an industry of innovators – that not only leads the world in production of natural gas and oil but is developing the technologies that make our air cleaner. The United States leads the world in reduction of carbon emissions, thanks primarily to clean natural gas. Cleaner fuels and other breakthroughs have helped drive combined emissions of the primary air pollutants down 73 percent since 1970 – while energy use and vehicle miles have climbed.
Building a better future takes energy, and building the best workforce is essential to keep delivering energy benefits to U.S. families. Working with our partners in African American and Hispanic communities, America’s natural gas and oil industry is focused on expanding opportunities and building the diversity that will make our workforce even stronger.
Sommers is president and CEO of American Petroleum Institute.