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oil rig workers in Texas

Workers place pipe into the ground on an oil drilling rig set up in the Permian Basin oil field on March 12, 2022 in Midland, Texas. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

New Analysis Destroys Fossil Fuel Industry's Misleading US Job Claims

"Their false claims do not add up and cannot be allowed to stall a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy," says the Food & Water Watch report.

Jessica Corbett

A Food & Water Watch report released Monday undermines the fossil fuel industry's claims about its positive impact on employment, showing that as oil and gas giants ramped up production and raked in record profits at the planet's expense, jobs have declined.

The advocacy group's fact sheet—titled Oil Profits and Production Grow at the Expense of Jobs, Consumers, and the Environment—comes as scientists continue to call for a swift transition to clean energy and critics around the world accuse the fossil fuel industry of war profiteering.

"The oil and gas industry would rather pay shareholders than workers," said Food & Water Watch (FWW) senior researcher Oakley Shelton-Thomas. "It should be clear by now that more production means more pollution, but it hasn't meant lower prices or more jobs."

According to FWW's fact sheet:

The American Petroleum Institute's (API) latest 2022 report claims that 11.3 million jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry (5.6% of all U.S. jobs). This is based on a report that the API commissioned in 2021 relying on 2019 data. In reality, there were only 695,000 oil and gas jobs nationally in 2019, which fell to 541,000 in 2020. By 2021, while oil and gas production recovered to 98% of 2019 levels, national employment fell further to 504,000 (0.35% of all U.S. jobs). For context, nationally, employers added an average of 457,000 jobs each month in the first half of 2022, and national job openings totaled nearly 11 million in June 2022.

The report points out that the 7% drop in oil and gas employment from 2020 to 2021—which was down 37% from a 2014 peak—aligned with a 33% jump in production. In other words, "in 2021, each job in the oil and gas industry was associated with the equivalent of 22,894 barrels of oil, gas, and natural gas liquids production, compared to 10,777 barrels per job in 2014."

As fossil fuel giants incorporate technology that replaces some employees, people are leaving remaining jobs that are risky and "insufficiently compensated," the report says, noting that "by early 2022, oil and gas workers, fed up with dangerous or unpleasant working conditions and wages below pre-pandemic levels, quit at rates not seen since before the pandemic."

The analysis further explains how the fossil fuel industry inflates job figures, highlighting the conflation between direct and indirect or induced jobs—the latter of which "account for nearly 75% of the top-line numbers that some oil and gas companies are referencing." The report detailed some specific conditions in California, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

FWW's document also asserts that along with driving the climate emergency, higher fossil fuel production in the United States "is not a geopolitical panacea or a solution to high energy prices," emphasizing that it has neither "protected Americans from rising prices at the pump or meter" nor blunted the global importance of countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Despite industry claims, the report states, "the truth is that oil and gas are cyclical industries that are prone to boom-and-bust cycles—bringing influxes of activity but leaving behind a poisonous environment and a toxic legacy when the money leaves."

"While the oil and gas industry uses promises of employment to gain political leverage, increased production does not actually guarantee more jobs," the document adds. "The 2020 crash shows that workers and communities bear the brunt of these busts, and 2021 shows that even when production returns, jobs continue to be cut."

"The oil and gas industry and its proponents are misleading the public and policymakers about the economic benefits produced by this destructive industry," the report concludes. "Their false claims do not add up and cannot be allowed to stall a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. We need a New Deal-scale green public works investment to create real green jobs and stave off the worsening effects of climate catastrophe."

The report was published as world leaders prepare for COP27, a global climate summit for Paris agreement nations set to be hosted by Egypt in November, and U.S. lawmakers consider permitting reforms pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would benefit the dirty energy industry.

While the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—which Manchin only supported with an agreement that Congress would push through the permitting legislation—contained some clean energy measures, there are also parts of it that will continue climate-wrecking practices.

"The science is clear. If we want a habitable planet, we cannot afford this dirty deal," Greenpeace USA chief program officer Tefere Gebre said last Thursday of Manchin's proposal. "We already paid an incredibly high price for the fossil fuel handouts in the IRA—we can and must stop this deal."

A United Nations report released just two days earlier reiterated that the science is indeed clear. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres summarized: "The current fossil fuel free-for-all must end now. It is a recipe for permanent climate chaos and suffering."

The economic case for a quick transition to clean energy is also clear. As Common Dreams reported last week, a new University of Oxford analysis shows that shifting away from fossil fuels by 2050 could save the world an estimated $12 trillion.


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