Monday, February 27, 2017

Oil is rebounding, but increased automation means few new jobs for workers in the oil patch

Ryan Grant is a control room operator for
Pioneer Natural Resources in Midland, Texas
helping manage all of the company’s drilling
sites (Times photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman)
Oil is making a comeback, but the industry's resurgence is not creating many new oilfield jobs to replace the ones lost in recent years, Clifford Krauss reports for The New York Times. The main reason is increased automation. "As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers—sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center—but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron."

One problem for the displaced workers is that a growing number are middle-aged with only a high-school education, Krauss writes. That means finding work in other fields that pay comparable to high-paying blue-collar oil jobs—"just the type that President Trump has vowed to preserve and bring back"—is difficult.

The oil industry lost 30 percent of its jobs since peaking in 2014, as oil prices plummeted, by as much as 70 percent at one point, Krauss writes. Of the 163,000 oil jobs lost since 2014, 98,000 were in Texas, largely in the western part of the state. "Several thousand workers have come back to work in recent months as the price of oil has begun to rise again, but energy experts say that between a third and a half of the workers who lost their jobs are not returning. Many have migrated to construction or even jobs in renewable energy, like wind power."

"Computers now direct drill bits that were once directed manually," Krauss writes. "The wireless technology taking hold across the oil patch allows a handful of geoscientists and engineers to monitor the drilling and completion of multiple wells at a time—onshore or miles out to sea—and supervise immediate fixes when something goes wrong, all without leaving their desks. It is a world where rigs walk on their own legs and sensors on wells alert headquarters to a leak or loss of pressure, reducing the need for a technician to check."

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