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Energy & Environment

Some Oil Jobs May Not Return Thanks To New Tech, Efficiency

“The profile of the employees will change,” says one Houston energy consultant.


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Oil companies are becoming increasingly high-tech. It's in part a response to the downturn: they want more efficient ways of producing and moving oil.

But what might that mean for jobs in the industry?

After a couple years of losses, energy jobs in Texas are slowly returning. There have been positive job numbers out of Houston and other energy-centric cities, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says oil and gas jobs grew statewide by 9% in January. But the Dallas Fed is warning those jobs probably won't return to their levels before the downturn, because now companies are better at doing more with less.

"I always say, never underestimate the powers of a petroleum engineer whose job is on the line,” says Economist Jesse Thompson with the Dallas Fed’s Houston branch.

"Your workforce is more efficient and the technology is continually improving.”

As companies invest more in tech upgrades from the rig to the back office, some jobs will be replaced by automation. But energy consultant Muqsit Ashraf with the Houston firm Accenture says there will also be a greater need for higher-skilled workers.

"The profile of the employees will change,” he says, “and there would be a shift in terms of head count on the field, to head count that might be sitting in remote operations centers making decisions."

Ashraf's firm warns of a "baby boomer brain drain" in the years ahead, with older "petrotechincal" workers leaving the industry and not being replaced by younger hires. The firm says that could spell trouble for companies when the next boom hits.