Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Politics of Energy #26 - Oil, gas workers lobby for jobs

by: CHRIS CASTEEL The Oklahoman

WASHINGTON — Battling claims that alternative energy will create millions of so-called green jobs, oil and gas companies have stepped up their efforts to convince lawmakers not to threaten jobs in their industry.

The American Petroleum Institute flew in Hispanic employees from oil and gas companies in 11 states, including Oklahoma, to go to Capitol Hill offices last week and make the case for traditional energy sources.

Cecilia Leonard, a vice president of reservoir engineering for Devon Energy, said she and employees of Anadarko Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Parker Drilling, ConocoPhillips and others met with staff members of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who could have a major impact on the industry.

Leonard said the group talked about regulatory barriers to exploration on federal land and the tax hikes proposed by President Barack Obama aimed at collecting more than $30 billion from the oil and gas industry over 10 years.

Leonard said the higher taxes would mean reduced investment by energy companies and "reduced investments would require a change in our work force."

The employees working Capitol Hill last week, she said, were trying to show that proposals detrimental to the industry would affect "all sectors of the economy, not just CEOs."

As the nation continues to suffer with high unemployment, the intense debate over energy in Washington has been as much about jobs as national security or global warming.

Last week, two Democratic senators who introduced legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions repeatedly stressed that a shift to alternative energy sources would create jobs of all types.

"The latest economic study predicts up to 1.9 million new jobs in America if we pass our bill," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The Obama administration has also been touting clean energy jobs, while downplaying the job losses that could occur in the oil and gas industry because of the proposed tax hikes and the shift away from fossil fuels.

At a Senate committee hearing last month, a Treasury Department official argued that the tax changes proposed by the administration would "have a very small effect on the price of oil and gas, the production of oil and gas and domestic jobs."

The "fly-in" to Washington of Hispanic employees was the third such effort this year as the industry tries to make its case on Capitol Hill. In July, the American Petroleum Institute flew in African-American employees and, in June, it was women.

"This is an educational and an outreach effort as we put a real face on the industry," API president and CEO Jack Gerard said. "We want our policymakers to meet the hard-working employees of our industry and come away with a better understanding of who we are and what we do to bring Americans the energy they need now and in the future."

The trade association has also taken out ads in the media warning about job losses that could occur from tax increases. "The administration ignores the potential loss of tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs that would otherwise be created from increased domestic oil and natural gas development," Larry Nichols, Devon's chief executive and the current chairman of API, said at a recent Senate hearing.

But the administration contends that, rather than ignoring the potential jobs in the oil and gas industry, it is deliberately shifting tax "subsidies" away from the industry and focusing on weaning the country off fossil fuels.

"My administration is deeply committed to passing a bill that creates new American jobs and the clean energy incentives that foster innovation," Obama said last week in praising the introduction of the Senate bill to reduce greenhouse gases.

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