BP oil spill-fire
Justin Stumberg/U.S. Navy
The offshore oil and gas industry is shedding jobs, but that’s due to low oil prices, not regulations. In 2015, more than 100,000 workers in Texas and 18,000 workers in Louisiana lost their jobs when oil prices crashed. Employment slightly recovered, only to be hammered again by the COVID-induced downturn during which 52,000 workers in Texas and 7,100 workers in Louisiana lost their jobs. Overall, oil and gas employment at the end of 2020 was around half what it was in 2015 in Texas and Louisiana, even though offshore production increased over that time period.
And we have barely learned the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon blowout – a spill of its size or larger could easily happen again. Meanwhile, thousands of the abandoned and orphaned wells in the Gulf of Mexico are currently leaking methane and other toxins into our ocean. Investing in sustainable and clean solutions is an opportunity for coastal communities to mitigate the environmental risk that comes with offshore drilling and keep our climate goals within reach.
FEDERAL PUBLIC LANDS CAN SPEED THE ENERGY TRANSITION AND FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
For too long, the dominant use of our federal public lands has been fossil fuel extraction. Despite a multiple-use, forward-looking management mandate, Interior has historically done little to slow the spread of oil, gas, and coal development across the public estate. Today, that means numerous iconic species are edging toward extinction, groundwater is polluted, methane is leaking at record rates, and communities continue to suffer from the boom and bust of global fossil energy markets.
Industry attempts to cloud this reality by using scare tactics to deflect from realities on the ground. Their claims, meant to stir up emotional responses and avoid any critical examination of reality, amount to, at best, gross exaggerations. The basic fact is that states dependent on oil and gas, and specifically states dependent on federal oil and gas, are facing an energy transition with very little policy in place to protect the workers and communities who will be most deeply affected. As the pace and scale of the energy transition accelerates—as it must if we hope to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change—the way we think about and use public lands and the benefits they can provide must change.
Oil wells on public lands in Wyoming.
Bureau of Land Management
What does this look like? Across all the states where federal oil and gas leasing is most prevalent, job growth is not coming from the oil and gas sector. Jobs tied to recreation, services, healthcare, and IT have enjoyed steady growth, while oil and gas jobs make up just a tiny and diminishing fraction of overall employment. Meanwhile, attention is turning to responsibly siting more renewable energy projects on federal public lands, a move that some estimate could generate tens of thousands of new jobs in the very near term. More broadly, the rapid increase in renewable energy deployment throughout western states is estimated to be a strong driver of job growth for decades to come.
Undoubtedly, states, counties, and cities whose budgets may be overly dependent on fossil fuels need more than just job growth to successfully navigate the energy transition. That’s where state governments and the federal government must rise the challenge, pursuing forward-looking policies that don’t doom fossil-dependent communities to an energy transition that will leave them behind. Doing so can help ensure economic stability and diversification to allow these areas to emerge more resilient and prosperous than before.
A FUTURE FOR OIL AND GAS WORKERS AND ECONOMIES CAN START NOW
Oil and gas jobs come and go in boom-and-bust cycles. We owe it to workers to invest in job programs that sustain jobs over a longer term, and in industries that don’t contribute to devastating climate change and degradation of our lands and ocean. The American Jobs Plan proposed by the Biden administration contains several programs that will create good-paying jobs for these workers immediately. Key programs include:
- Funding to plug orphaned oil and gas wells on state and federal public lands and waters—an effort that could lead to tens of thousands of jobs, deliver major benefits to local air and water, and significantly reduce climate destroying methane emissions;
- Tax credits paired with strong labor standards for clean electricity to put us on the path to a carbon-free power system by 2035;
- Investment in transportation infrastructure, including funding to build out our electric vehicle charging network and supply chain to make cars that can run on clean power – rather than dirty oil – more accessible to everyday Americans; and
- Funding to upgrade drinking water infrastructure, including to replace all lead pipes in the country to ensure that drinking water doesn’t result in lead poisoning.
Our future is not in fossil fuels. The technologies and policies we need to transition our economy to clean energy exist today and manufacturing and constructing our energy future can drive employment and economic growth in a way that is sustainable and not tied to the further destruction of our global climate. When Department of Interior releases their interim report on oil and gas in the coming weeks, we hope to see a forward-looking document and plan that focuses on a clean energy future.