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May 8, 2014

Obama can help fill the jobs during energy boom

  Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If the old adage was, “To get a good job, get a good education,” the new one should be, “To get a good job, go work in the oil and gas industry.”

A college education is still a good choice, but thousands of high-paying, blue-collar jobs are begging for skilled workers thanks to the U.S. energy boom. And while President Obama has done little to create these jobs, he could take some steps to help fill them.

In 2012, USA Today cited Tom Tunstall, research director for the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio, as saying that Texas’ Eagle Ford shale project is expected to create 54,000 jobs by 2021, only 15 percent requiring a college degree.

And that’s just to extract the oil and gas from one field in Texas. It must then be transported and refined, which creates a different set of high-paying jobs.

Bloomberg News reports the Gulf Coast is facing a growing shortage of blue-collar workers:
“Companies [i.e., processing and refining] will spend $35 billion, more than ever, on expansion projects along the Houston Ship Channel by next year, creating a total of 265,800 jobs, a 2012 Greater Houston Port Bureau survey shows,” Bloomberg said.

“Louisiana, where $60 billion in building projects are planned through 2016, will need 86,300 workers over that time, according to the state’s Workforce Commission.”

And notice which workers benefit the most from this expansion: “The biggest shortages will be for welders, electricians, instrumentation technicians, fabricators and pipe fitters….”

Of the 10 leading oil- and gas-producing states, five have significantly lower unemployment rates than the national average of 6.7 percent. North Dakota has a 2.6 percent unemployment rate, Wyoming is 4.0 percent, Utah 4.1 percent, Oklahoma 4.5 percent, and here in Texas it’s just 5.5 percent.

Railroads are also booming because so much oil is shipped over rail, partly as a result of the time it takes to build new pipelines, especially in the midst of worker shortages.

And cities, counties and states have to try and meet the infrastructure needs of individuals and families who are moving to the high-production areas. That means more jobs building roads, housing, schools, medical facilities and retail facilities.

If President Obama really wants to be helpful, there are a couple of things he could do.

First, the administration needs to quit hammering the private, for-profit technical schools. High-paying, energy-related jobs need skilled workers, and technical schools provide that training.

Many of those schools’ students receive federal aid to cover the costs of their education. A public policy case could be made for removing all federal education subsidies, but if the government is still going to cover tuition for low-income students, then accredited private sector schools should be included.

Second, the administration needs to quickly process the numerous applications for permits to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that would allow the U.S. to export gas to other countries, ensuring that jobs would be around for years, if not decades.


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