Oil, natural gas industries can provide jobs boost

With each passing day, many Americans continue to find themselves without jobs, and many are discouraged about finding one any time soon. While unemployment affects individuals primarily, it also hurts state and local governments. It harms our nation, its ability to meet citizens’ needs and its ability to confront challenges abroad.

It was proper, then, that our nation’s leaders recently held a jobs summit, turning their attention to the question of how best to put America back to work as quickly as possible. The nation is suffering and in desperate need of answers as to how to put paychecks into Americans’ pocketbooks.

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The American oil and natural gas industry has some of those answers and can be a vital part of the solution. We bring with us an unparalleled record for creating and supporting millions of good-paying jobs in every region of this country and every segment of the economy.

Our industry supports 9.2 million jobs in all segments of the economy, from manufacturing to retail, and it adds more than $1 trillion to the nation’s economy. So it’s not just the oilfield or refinery workers who benefit from a healthy oil and natural gas industry, but also your local car dealer and restaurant owner, and the nearby Wal-Mart — and all those who work for them. 

If you were to take all those who work for the oil and gas industry, 2.1 million, their number would be greater than the population of 15 states. Their hard work, whether it’s in sub-zero temperatures on the Arctic tundra, in stark desolation 50 miles off the Gulf coast or in a state-of-the-art refinery, brings Americans the energy they demand and need.

Once the economy begins to recover, these 2.1 million people will be there to provide the additional fuels needed to re-energize our nation. America will need all kinds of jobs in all sectors, but without the energy to power the factories, without the natural gas to generate electricity, and without the fuel to get the goods to markets and people to work, few of those new jobs can become a reality.

And speaking of new jobs: We can provide those, too, plenty of them. Between 2004 and 2007, the oil and gas industry created 2 million new jobs. But we can have even more new jobs, with the right government policies. For instance, if we were to get the go-ahead to tap oil and natural gas resources in non-park, multi-use federal lands (again, to provide the energy America needs and will need), it would create 160,000 new jobs while generating more than $1.7 trillion in government revenue.

The development of Canadian oil sands could add another 342,000 U.S. jobs between 2010 and 2015. The development of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale alone could create about 50,000 new jobs. Other states with significant potential to develop shale gas could also benefit.

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On any given day, thousands of American construction employees are working to operate, maintain and upgrade the vast network of refineries, pipelines and storage tanks. While refineries have felt the impact of the economic downturn in recent years, as soon as the economy turns upward, they will once again be called upon to produce the additional gasoline, diesel and fuel oil needed to sustain a thriving economy, and that could lead to additional good-paying jobs.

Then there are those “green” jobs that everybody is talking about. America’s oil and gas industry is already creating them. Between 2000 and 2008, the industry invested $58.4 billion in greenhouse gas-mitigating technologies. That is more than was invested by either the federal government or by all other U.S.-based private industries combined. Those investments lead to jobs across the country.

It is imperative that we, the leaders of the oil and natural gas industry, are part of the solution to the challenge of creating jobs so that we can once again become a proud nation of workers.

Nichols is chairman and CEO of Devon Energy Corp., based in Oklahoma City, and chairman of the American Petroleum Institute.