Texas regulator says ‘misunderstanding’ is making millennials shun oilfield jobs

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune 

State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, debates an amendment to HB1 on April 1, 2011. Bob Daemmrich

If you ask Wayne Christian, the biggest threat to the oil and gas industry in Texas is millennials — and a general public that’s been brainwashed into thinking that fossil fuels are bad for the environment.

That’s what the former Republican state representative — who now regulates the state’s oil and gas industry as one of three elected members of the Texas Railroad Commission — told his former colleagues during a legislative hearing on Wednesday where state, local and industry officials detailed the many challenges of the latest oil and gas boom in West Texas.

One of the tasks the House Energy Resources Committee has been assigned ahead of the 2019 legislative session is figuring out how the state can “facilitate investment in public infrastructure and workforce development in the Permian Basin region,” where heavy truck traffic is decimating roads and the oil and gas industry is struggling to find truck drivers and other qualified workers as production ramps up again.

Christian repeatedly said the workforce development problem is due to misinformation and lack of education about the benefits of the oil and gas industry, which he said has led to “a better, safer, cleaner environment.”

“The biggest threat to our boom that we see ahead of us … is the misunderstanding of the oil and gas industry and the acceptance of the politically-correct-driven environmental anti-oil and gas science,” he said. “Because of that misunderstanding of the oil and gas business and what it has provided mankind … many people don’t want to go into the oil and gas industry … especially students.”

He cited a survey that found that a significant portion of millennials wouldn’t want to work in the industry.

The vast majority of the world’s scientists believe that the production and burning of fossil fuels has damaged the environment and is a primary driver of climate change.

The only mention of climate change during the four-hour hearing on Wednesday came when state Rep. Jason Isaac cited a multiple choice question that had appeared on his son’s standardized exam. It asked which energy source was known to cause climate change.

“It infuriated me,” said the Dripping Springs Republican, explaining that it had prompted him to work with a nonprofit that advocates for the teaching of an “unbiased view of energy” in public schools.

“We’re teaching our kids negative things — we’re pre-biasing them,” he said. “No wonder the pool is small.”

As oil prices recover, drilling technologies improve and the market responds to the 2015 lifting of a ban on most crude oil exports, energy production has ramped up significantly in the Permian Basin — an ancient, hydrocarbon-rich seabed that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will surpass Russia as the world’s top oil producer by the end of the year thanks mostly to production in the area.

Christian said Wednesday that the country has a “moral duty” to war veterans to drill for oil because it will further a long-held goal of energy independence. However, virtually all the oil being produced in the Permian — a light, sweet crude that most domestic refineries aren’t equipped to process — is being exported.

The burgeoning boom has already brought a host of challenges to the rural region that include record traffic fatalities, sky-high housing costs and overcrowded schools. (One problem that arose during the last oil boom — earthquakes — doesn’t appear to be getting worse, the state seismologist told the committee.) Panel members of all political stripes appeared eager to support the industry as they figure out how to address those challenges.

“As progressive as I am and as enlightened as I am, we embrace the energy industry in our region,” said state Rep. Armando Walle, a Houston Democrat who countered Christian’s assertion that academic institutions aren’t doing enough to train a workforce for oilfield jobs.