118K coal, oil, gas jobs wiped out during pandemic — report

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 24, 2020

Fossil fuel industries have lost more than 15% of their workforce since March, surpassing layoffs in the clean energy sector, according to an analysis published last week.

Produced by California-based BW Research, the analysis found that oil, gas and coal industries shed 118,000 positions between March and July, not counting temporary furloughs. That’s roughly 15.5% of those industries’ total.

The decline has continued even as the broader energy sector has experienced a tentative stabilization. In July, 1,300 fossil fuel jobs were lost, and additional layoffs would probably continue through this month and “through the near future,” wrote the firm’s Vice President Philip Jordan in a memo published Friday.

That contrasted with the 5,800 jobs recovered in other energy sectors in June, with motor vehicles and energy efficiency accounting for the bulk of those restored positions, according to a separate BW Research memo Friday.

Clean energy companies — a category that included energy efficiency and renewable power but excluded nuclear — added 3,200 jobs in July, the firm said this month (Greenwire, Aug. 12)

Still, energy employment as a whole remains “far below” what it was before the pandemic. “The job recovery in the energy sector has stalled out completely,” Jordan said.

Demand for oil fell sharply earlier this year as lockdowns and travel restrictions kicked in. Oil prices have recovered somewhat, thanks to “historically large” production cuts, Jordan said. But demand has remained sluggish since many Americans are still moving around less and factories have closed, while storage of petroleum and other fuels remain near capacity.

“The percentage drop is a bit steeper” for fossil fuels, but the recovery was following “the same pattern,” he said.

The hardest-hit fossil fuel industry in terms of jobs was oil, which lost 69,500 positions or 17% of its workforce since March, particularly in extraction activities, according to the firm. Gas and coal industries were slightly less affected, with 14% and 13%, respectively, of their employees laid off since March.

‘Unprecedented’

Kentucky and Pennsylvania suffered the worst layoffs percentagewise — which hit more than a quarter of their fossil fuel workers — while Texas had the largest number overall among states, with nearly 40,000 lost positions.

As was the case in the clean energy sector, the layoffs were particularly acute for minorities, especially women and Hispanic and Latino workers, the firm’s analyses found.

Clean energy advocates, including those who commissioned past studies from BW Research, have clamored for new federal stimulus measures that would advance low-carbon technologies that haven’t seen widespread deployment.

Oil and gas industry associations have said they would not need a bailout, though emergency lending programs and the Paycheck Protection Program have extended federal aid to some fossil fuel companies.

President Trump, along with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, predicted back in May that oil and gas companies were on a “transition to greatness” (Energywire, May 13)

But BW Research’s fossil fuel-focused analysis — which, unlike earlier clean energy reports from the firm, wasn’t commissioned by industry — also concluded that stimulus measures would be necessary for “displaced fossil workers.”

Oil and gas workers could be retrained as part of “just transition” proposals to upgrade the grid or develop wind farms and energy storage, said Jordan. “There are many options that people would have,” he said.

Bethany Aronhalt, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, said the group had not sought “industry-specific support,” adding that over the long run, oil and gas companies would be “prepared to power the economic recovery.”

“All industries have been impacted by this unprecedented situation, and we’re no different,” she said.

Reporters Carlos Anchondo and Lesley Clark contributed.

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