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Energy Job Numbers Slumped Last Year, But Are On The Rebound

An oil pumpjack and tan barrels sit on a dry, rolling hillside.
Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
Pumpjacks in Wyoming.

News Brief

The U.S. Energy and Employment Jobs report came out Tuesday, showing an overall decline in energy jobs around the nation.

Before the pandemic, job numbers in the energy sector were growing twice as fast as the economy, according to the report. But by the end of 2020, about 840,000 jobs were lost (about 10%).

Since most of us didn’t travel much, there’s no surprise that demand for fuels like oil and gasoline tanked. Because of that, good-paying jobs associated with fuels didn’t do so well. That’s especially true in energy-heavy states like Colorado and Wyoming.

While job numbers suffered overall, some energy sector jobs did alright.

Jobs associated with cars, like mechanics, even saw increases in states like Idaho.

Because many worked from home last year, demands for electricity actually increased, too. That’s according to Charles Mason, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming.

“Evidently electricity demand in an office setting is a little more efficient than on the home front,” said Mason, who is also the associate dean for research in the UW College of Business and the H.A. “Dave” True, Jr. Chair of Petroleum and Natural Gas Economics.

That increased need for electricity could have meant a greater demand for natural gas, but Mason said that didn’t happen.

“It didn’t really translate into an increase in having drilling rigs out looking for gas. And that I suppose is because we have these substantial stockpiles of natural gas. So it was easy enough to meet any uptick in demand,” he said.

What did happen was an increase in energy transmission, distribution and storage jobs in many parts of the Mountain West. Mason said that was to make sure energy was getting where it needed to go when at-home use started to increase.

Those jobs were also bolstered by ongoing pipeline projects.

The report noted that while the energy job slump was large, things have started to rebound quickly, too.

“At the pandemic’s peak in mid-2020 energy jobs had decreased by 1.4 million. By the end of 2020, 520,000 energy jobs had already returned,” it said.

Mason expects energy job numbers to keep rebounding this year. But he said there will likely be continued shifts down the road towards electric vehicles and away from fossil fuels like coal.

To see how your state fared, go here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.