The oil-field services sector added 7,450 jobs in December, up 1 percent from November, as crude prices continued to recover from the pandemic-driven downturn.
Employment in the oil-field services and equipment sector increased by 62,163 jobs in 2021, posting gains every month since February and recovering a little more than half of the 109,000 jobs lost during the pandemic in 2020, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistic data by the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. The Houston-based trade group represents oilfield services firms that drill and complete wells and manufacture equipment, including Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.
Coronavirus vaccines and the resulting surge in economic activity has bolstered hiring in the oil patch, particularly in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, the nation’s most productive oil field. Texas added 21,924 oil-field service jobs over the past year, the most nationally. There are 321,304 oil-field service workers in the Lone Star State, representing nearly half of the nation’s workforce, according to the Energy Workforce & Technology Council.
Jobs in the sector, however, remain well below pre-pandemic levels. The sector employs 659,356 employees nationally, down from the 786,532 workers at the pre-pandemic peak of June 2019 and 732,430 workers in December 2019, when the novel coronavirus was first discovered in China.
Still, the job recovery is welcome news to the oil-field services sector, one of the hardest hit during the 2020 oil bust. Many oil exploration and production companies, which contract with oil-field services firms, temporarily stopped drilling wells and producing oil and natural gas from existing wells at the start of the pandemic as demand for crude and petroleum products plunged.
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Employment reached a low in February at 591,413 jobs, down nearly 12 percent since the pandemic in the U.S. began in March 2020.
During the worst period of pandemic-related cuts, oil-field services companies slashed almost 57,300 jobs in April 2020, when crude prices fell into negative territory for the first time. It was the largest job loss recorded in the sector in a single month since at least 2013.
Since then, the rollout of vaccines has lifted economic lockdowns and travel bans across much of the world, although Omicron threatens renewed restrictions. Production cuts by OPEC and Western oil giants have also buoyed crude markets, allowing demand for crude and petroleum products such as gasoline and jet fuel to catch up with supply – and raising prices.
West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, was trading at $78.16 a barrel on Monday morning, down 74 cents from Friday but up from negative-$37 a barrel in April 2020.
U.S. drillers added 235 rigs in 2021, but the number of rigs in operation remains far below the peak of almost 1,100 at the end of 2018 and the 790 rigs operating pre-pandemic, according to Baker Hughes. The rig count is a leading indicator of the nation’s oil and gas production – and oil-field jobs.