The U.S. oil and gas industry supported 11.3 million workers, including 2.5 million Texans, before the global pandemic and subsequent oil crash forced energy companies to lay off more than 160,000 jobs nationwide.

American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers said he believes the industry can one day return to the 2019 job levels outlined in the trade group’s biennial jobs report released Tuesday. API commissioned accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to compile the jobs report using government data.  

“This is a preview of what could be again,” Sommers said. “We’re still very bullish on the future of oil.”

Analysts and economists however, aren’t so sure all the jobs lost during the pandemic will return as the industry consolidates in the aftermath of the pandemic and increasingly relies on remote drilling technology and automation to streamline operations. There’s also looming uncertainty over the industry as governments around the world impose more regulations on the industry and as society shifts away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy      

These trends will have profound implications in Texas, where oil and gas represents 14 percent of the state’s jobs and nearly a quarter of the state’s total economic output. In Texas, the oil and gas industry pays more than $251.1 billion in wages and has a more than $411.5 billion in economic impact. 

The Texas oil and gas industry in 2019 employed more than 620,000 workers in the oil exploration and production sector; 1 million in oil-field services; 212,000 at fuel stations; 118,500 in oil and gas transportation and 71,000 in oil-field equipment manufacturing.

ENERGY: Big Oil’s future could be smaller than its past

Sommers, who was in Houston this week in preparation for the World Petroleum Congress in December, said he remains confident crude demand will recover from the pandemic, leading to a rebound in industry jobs. He pointed to the International Energy Agency, which forecast the world will consume 50 percent more energy by 2050 as the global population adds 2 million more people. Sommer said he expects oil and natural gas will remain a major part of the energy mix, especially natural gas which provides 40 percent of the nation’s electricity. 

“We only see consumption going up over time,” Sommers said. “You can’t make a Tesla without oil and gas.”  

Norwegian energy research firm Rystad in November said it sees global oil demand peaking at 102 million barrels per day by 2028, up from around 100 million barrels per day in early 2020. At the worst of the pandemic, oil demand globally fell to 81 million barrels per day, still a significant amount of demand despite the pandemic, Sommers said. 

Sommers said he hopes the jobs report will catch the attention of the Biden administration, which has promised to impose more environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry to reduce carbon emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change. The administration has blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, banned new drilling leases on federal lands and waters and is weighing increasing royalty rates on federal property.

Sommers said he fears these new regulations will hurt the U.S. oil and gas industry, and shift these jobs overseas. 

“These 11.3 million jobs are nothing to sneeze at,” Sommers said. “We think they should stay in the U.S.”