Oil and gas industry sees spike in wages, but growth comes with cost
Richard Vogel, Associated Press
While this week's job report shows job creation is still lagging, there is one success story. The number of new jobs in the oil and gas industry went up by 270,000 between 2003 and 2012, a whopping 92 percent increase compared with a 3 percent increase for all jobs during that time.
Results of the boom — largely fueled by fracking — were released in a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report this week that shows natural resource jobs are on the rise while other job growth is slow, and they can raise the tide even for low-wage workers. According to the BLS, the average annual wage in the oil and gas industry was $107,200 in 2012, while the average worker made less than half that at $49,300.
Nationwide, the workers at the bottom of the pay range were waiters at about $16,200 a year, and retail workers at $27,700, but in boom towns in places like Montana and South Dakota, these workers fare better too, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal. Workers in accommodations, food service and retail have all received a boost, with food service pay in boomtown Richland County, Montana, rising from 80 percent to 109 percent of the state average, and Williams County bumping from 97 percent to 146 percent of the state average, according to the report.
However, while an upswing in jobs is garnering attention to the oil and gas industry, one aspect that's overlooked is how dangerous the work is, reports Oil & Gas Journal. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2012 — the most recent year that data is available — saw more worker deaths in oil and gas extraction than ever. There were 138 deaths in 2012, up 23 percent from the previous year.
Ed Foulke, former OSHA assistant secretary of labor under President George W. Bush and current co-chairman of the law firm Fisher & Phillips' Workplace Safety & Catastrophe Management Practice Group, spoke to Oil & Gas Journal about work safety and oil field injuries, noting that from 2003-2010, the BLS found 823 gas extraction workers died on the job, a rate that's seven times higher than other industries.
Most injuries, Foulke said, involved new workers — 46 percent involved people with less than a year on the job.
"We've seen this pattern before: new people in new jobs pushed to complete tasks after little training, leading to more accidents, injuries and deaths," said Foulke. He said that training is key, and called for more stringent safety measures and risk management.