The Energy Sector Continues Adding Jobs Despite Declining Oil Prices

U.S. energy companies (NYSE:XLE) are hiring this year as they boost domestic production of natural gas (NYSE:UNG). Though oil and oil stock prices have been down lately, demand for natural gas from the country’s shale fields has been growing as many power-generation companies switch from coal (NYSE:KOL) or fuel oil (NYSE:USO).

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Pipeline firm Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE) plans to add staff to build up to $10 billion in new infrastructure over the next five years. Jim Haynes, vice president of Spectra’s U.S. operations, says that the natural gas industry has “seen at least a 15% increase, industry-wide, over the past several years, even during the downturn.” Spectra added 130 employees in 2010 and 129 so far in 2011. The Independent Petroleum Association of America projects that some 200,000 jobs will be created in the energy sector in 2011.

Dave Pursell, managing director of research firm Tudor Pickering Hold & Co., says that shale-gas fields in the U.S. will remain profitable, even with prices falling to $80 a barrel or less. Furthermore, oil has only recently declined, and was as high as $100 a barrel on July 25. According to Pursell, the recent drop isn’t enough to discourage hiring. The oil and gas industry contracted more during the 2008-09 financial crisis as it became more difficult for companies to get funding for drilling projects, but that isn’t a problem now.

Companies are especially looking to hire petroleum engineers, who maximize returns from wells. According to Apache Corp. (NYSE:APA) spokesman Bill Mintz, “a lot of petroleum engineers are in their 50s and expected to retire.” The company added about a thousand employees between 2009 and 2010, and Mintz says they’re continuing to hire, recruiting graduates from the Colorado School of Mines, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the Universities of Oklahoma, Texas, and Tulsa.

Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) currently has over 300 openings. Devon’s spokesman, Chip Minty, says that, “even if oil and natural gas dropped below where they are today, we’d still be looking at wells that are economical.” The company’s long-term operational objectives do not waver based on trends, as its budget it put together using very conservative market prices.