The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Vote For Energy Careers – Vote4Energy

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 19, 2016

It’s a fundamental question before most, if not all, of the 2.83 million graduates (associate’s and bachelor’s) in the college Class of 2016: What do you want to be?

More to the point: Where do your interests lie, how might what you learned in college be applied and where might career opportunity be found?

Think energy. Here’s why: The U.S. – and the world – will always need energy.

Just this week the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released an early look at its Annual Energy Outlook 2016 report projecting that oil and natural gas will be the United States’ leading fuels sources in 2040 – as they are today. This is because oil and gas are energy rich. They’re portable, abundant and affordable. As EIA’s report shows, they’re the leading fuels for our modern economy and will be well into the future. Indeed, average annual growth in domestic natural gas production over the past 10 years has been 988,721 million cubic feet, an increase of more than 50 percent, and oil production has nearly doubled over the same period of time.

The world also needs energy. EIA’s recent International Energy Outlook projects that global energy demand will increase roughly 40 percent between now and 2040, and that fossil fuels will continue supplying more than 75 percent of the energy the planet uses 24 years from now.

Energy need = career opportunities in energy.

Certainly, our industry faces challenges in the current low-price environment. But long-term, for a career, energy is a sound path – again, because everything runs on energy. As we’ve noted in earlier posts in this series, energy is so fundamental across society you could argue that brewing beer is an energy job, making medicines is an energy job and more.

Oil and natural gas industry job creation played a critical role in moving the United States out of the great recession a few years ago. And, because of energy demand growth and demographic changes on the way, our industry promises to be a leading job creator in the future. API President and CEO Jack Gerard, speaking last year to the American Association of Blacks in Energy:

“Today, we stand at the nexus of two dramatic changes to our country. First,  an unprecedented energy boom. Second, a significant demographic change toward an even more diverse society. This confluence means that in the coming decades, in order to fill the hundreds of thousands of jobs the industry will create, we’ll need to ensure that the oil and natural gas workforce of the future is as diverse as our nation. … In addition to these new jobs, there are a significant number of existing jobs that will need to be filled as a result of the expected crew change, a 7- to 10-year period when roughly half of the oil and natural gas industry’s technical personnel will retire.”

It’s an industry that features well-paying jobs. In 2015, the average U.S. energy worker earned approximately $42 an hour. As Gerard mentioned, the industry is building an increasingly diverse workforce. According to a report by consulting firm IHS, by 2035 Hispanics and African Americans will hold nearly 40 percent of the 1.9 million direct jobs in the industry. This will equal more than 700,000 positions.

Women also make up a growing portion of the industry’s workforce and are expected to account for around 290,000 of those direct jobs by 2035.

Key to energy career opportunity is an education in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. A STEM education can lead to the most lucrative career paths in the oil and natural gas industry. For example, petroleum engineers bring highly sought skills to the job and, on average, earn about $130,000 annually. New positions in this field are expected to roughly double between 2015 and 2035, the IHS study said.


For graduates with more of a business, computer science or liberal arts education a wide range of non-STEM skills are needed to support the energy industry. In fact, seven of the Princeton Review’s Top 10 College Majors provide skills that can be applied in the energy sector:

  • Computer Science – Computers help run nearly every aspect of modern energy development, from locating sources and operating machines to managing distribution and communications.
  • Communications – Communicators help to provide a window into the work being done by the sector, serving as a portal of information to both others in the industry and outside observers.
  • Government/Political Science – For the energy sector to be successful in creating affordable domestic energy independence, there needs to be commonsense policies and laws in place. That is where government and political science graduates come into play. With their training and skills, they are able to help lay the framework for energy-positive policy.
  • Business – It is often the business graduates – the accountants, the marketing team, human resources and more – who support the day-to-day business management functions.
  • Economics – As with all major industries, oil and natural gas companies function subject to market cross currents. This makes talented economics graduates a must have for identifying trends and making sure the sector is prepared to meet whatever challenges arise.
  • English – Much like the work of communications graduates, those with an English background are integral in writing and editing internal and public-facing information related to oil and gas production.
  • Chemical Engineering – As the vital role for petroleum engineers (a subset of chemical engineering) shows, graduates with chemical engineering backgrounds are a necessity for keeping the energy sector safe, robust and modern.

There also are career opportunities in the oil and natural gas industry for other educational backgrounds. Geological and engineering technicians often only need two years of certified training, and most of these students find employment after completing their training.

Other well-paying jobs in the industry include truck drivers, derrick hands, roustabouts and welders, positions that often involve vocational training. 

For the past 50 years, Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – have dominated the U.S. workforce, in the energy sector and in other sectors. But as they increasingly enter retirement, opportunities for younger people to enter the natural gas and petroleum industries are growing. It’s the “crew change” Gerard mentioned.

With about a third of the existing workforce expected to retire in the next few years, we can expect major career opportunities for those entering the oil and natural gas sector – especially for those with skills and training in areas related to geology, geophysics, petroleum and natural gas engineering, drilling and related fields.

Moving forward the energy sector, including the nation’s oil and gas industry, will continue to serve as an important employer and job creator. 

So, congratulations college grads! Now, what do you want to be?

See also Energy in: A Warm Home, Valentine’s Day, The Electrical Age, Rail Transportation, Manufacturing, Healthcare, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness Hoops, Spring Break, Play Ball! Medicines, Clean Water, Good Homes, Mother’s Day, America’s Defense.


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.