Energy jobs vulnerable to boom-bust cycles

Workers at a Range Resources site are seen behind the top of a pump where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway in Claysville, Pa. Photo: AP/Keith Srakocic

At campaign rallies across the country, both the Romney and Obama camps have stressed the energy sector as the industry that offers perhaps the most promise for business growth and employment opportunities in the United States today.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has campaigned hard on this issue, promising federal support for energy development in resource-rich swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the natural gas boom has brought a sense of economic optimism to rural towns across the region. Not to be outdone on the energy jobs front, President Barack Obama endorsed natural gas drilling and the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing in his 2012 State of the Union address, saying “nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.”

While job creation is a big political selling point for oil and gas companies looking to sway state and federal officials on lessened regulations and corporate tax breaks, the blue-collar employment opportunities offered are sometimes short-term, contractual jobs. Moreover, even the natural gas industry — a thriving business by most accounts — has started to cut back on capital-heavy operations and hiring as the price of natural gas has fallen.
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