Officials with AAA say unusually high gas prices in January could be a sign that prices will stay high throughout 2018.
If so, could that mean more oil and gas jobs coming to Houston after a downturn that’s recently cost the area 82,000 energy sector jobs?
For many Houstonians working in or dependent on the oil and gas industry, three years of low oil prices, which dipped as low as $26 per barrel, have been stressful.
Shawn Baker can relate. While her Houston business, Tantrums LLC, where people pay to break objects for fun or for therapy, has taken off, Baker’s business started slowly in 2015 after she says she was unexpectedly laid off for the first time after a nearly 25-year career in oil and gas.
“I was so burned and disappointed,” Baker said. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m not the only one that could go smash a bunch of stuff right now.’”
Since 2015, drivers have watched gas prices climb. But do higher numbers at the pump translate to higher job numbers at the drill sites, rigs, and refineries?
“Hiring is probably about the fourth on the list of things (energy companies will) do if they see an increase in crude prices,” said Patrick Jankowski, Senior Vice President of Research for the Greater Houston Partnership, who credits the current higher prices at the pump to U.S. demand, global demand, and tighter production from OPEC members.
Instead, Jankowski says those companies will first pay off debt from the downturn, restore dividends and put money back into drilling programs.
Jankowski says current hiring among Houston-area energy companies remains flat overall, but if crude prices stay at or above their current level, that could translate to more jobs.
“If oil prices stay up above 60 (dollars per barrel), not just for a few weeks, but for a few months or a quarter or two, that’ll bring some strength to that third leg of the stool, and Houston’s economy will be a lot stronger mid-year than it is right now,” said Jankowski, referring to his analogy of Houston’s economy as a “three-legged stool”, with the U.S. and global economies comprising the other two legs.
Even then, the GHP analyst warns many of the new jobs won’t look like the ones lost.
“Everything’s being digitized right now, including the oil and gas industry,” Jankowski said. “They’re gonna be looking for more digital scientists, more tech people, not as many geologists, not as many clerks, not as many traditional people in the oil and gas industry.”
Meanwhile, Baker says many of the former oil and gas industry workers she knows are “burned out” and “are not gonna go back."
Baker says she’d still love to do remote work for her old industry but has no plans to leave behind her new one.
“I’m not giving up Tantrums,” Baker said. “I have too much blood, sweat and tears in it to let it go.”