The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Apples and Oranges (and Bananas)

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 20, 2011

We're all for jobs. Every single one of them. So when a new Brookings Institution study says the "clean economy" employs 2.7 million people, that's great. America needs as many working people as possible. The rub comes in trying to figure out what the study means beyond that.

Brookings would have us believe its research says something about where employment in America is headed. From the press release accompanying the study:

"The clean economy employs about 2.7 million people, more than the fossil-fuel industry and twice the size of the biosciences sector."

The suggestion is that the employment future is in what Brookings defines as clean jobs. I mean, just look at the numbers. But hold on: economy ... industry ... sector. Since an economy includes a large number of industries and sectors, isn't this an apples-and-oranges (and maybe bananas) comparison?

Things get interesting when you delve into the definition of "clean" jobs. According to Brookings it's basically any enterprise whose products have "environmental benefit." These include companies and establishments that sell or provide services with an environmental benefit "either inherently, like environmental remediation services or relatively, like organic food or solar panels."

Now that's a large net. There are obvious job categories - like energy research and, naturally, environmental consultants - as well as the not so obvious, such as asbestos encapsulation, hazardous waste removal and something called "scavengering."

Another issue is the zero-sum nature of news coverage that inevitably follows - coverage highlighting conclusions that need more parsing. A Los Angeles Times story on the study noted the growth of the local wind power sector:

"In Los Angeles, some of the smallest segments are also the fastest growing. The metro area's wind power sector grew 37% a year between 2003 and 2010 -- from five workers to 45, the study said."

Two points: First, do 45 jobs really constitute a "sector"? Second, however gratifying the percentage increase, going from five workers to 45 over seven years isn't evidence anything on a macro-economic scale.

Let's be clear: This isn't a knock on the kinds of jobs Brookings counted in its study. They're important to America's energy future - which is why the oil and natural gas industry invested $58.4 billion in low-carbon technologies from 2000 to 2008 - more than all other private investments combined, more than the federal government's investment.

Yet, while Brookings is entitled to come up with the definitions for its own study, comparing a generously defined clean-jobs economy with a tightly defined industry is faulty.

The fact is oil and natural gas directly employs 2.1 million Americans and supports 7.1 million more. And it's willing to employ even more - nearly 190,000 new jobs in the Gulf of Mexico if deepwater well permitting returns to pre-2010 levels, more than 530,000 new jobs from 2011-2025 with the right energy policies in place.

These are jobs you can count on - and no government subsidies needed, just government policies that will let this industry grow our economy.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.