New Research: Fossil Fuel Production Gains While Jobs Disappear

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Climate and Energy

New research from the environmental organization Food & Water Watch debunks fossil fuel industry claims about job creation, showing that overall employment has suffered even as production has increased. 

For years, the oil and gas trade association American Petroleum Institute (API) has released wildly inflated estimates of direct and indirect jobs created by the fracking industry, ranging from 2.5 million to 11 million. But the new Food & Water Watch analysis – which is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – shows that the industry employs far fewer workers than it claims: About 541,000 nationwide, or less than 0.4 percent of all jobs.

Fossil fuel jobs losses were particularly striking in 2020, when oil and gas employment fell by an astonishing 22 percent. Oil and gas production, however, fell by just 3 percent. While the jobs decline is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is part of a larger trend: Total oil and gas employment has fallen 33 percent since 2014. Over the same period, production has risen 32 percent.

“The oil and gas industry uses promises of employment to gain political leverage, which has impeded the necessary transition to clean, renewable energy,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. “This research shows that the industry’s jobs claims are not only wildly inaccurate, but that they are able to bring more oil and gas out of the ground with fewer workers. When the jobs disappear – especially in bust years like 2020 – workers and frontline communities bear the pain.”

The gap between industry jobs misinformation and reality was particularly wide in key oil and gas producing states:

-In Pennsylvania, API claimed that a fracking ban would cost over 500,000 jobs. In reality, just under 25,000 workers are employed in the oil and gas industries. Last year, employment in those fields shrank by 20 percent, even though record amounts of gas were produced.

-The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association claimed that stopping fracking on public lands would cost 60,000 jobs. But total oil and gas employment in the state is only about 20,000 (about 2.6 percent of the workforce), and jobs in the industry declined by about 25 percent in 2020.

-In California, the Western States Petroleum Association claimed that there are 368,000 jobs in the oil industry. But the Food & Water Watch analysis counts just 22,000 jobs in the industry, and that total has dropped 40 percent over the past decade. Overall, oIl and gas production account for barely one-tenth of 1 percent of all employment in California.