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Houston company hopes to pump new life into the oil and gas industry after state loses 40K jobs amid pandemic

HOUSTON – It’s no secret that COVID-19 has put the U.S. economy in a serious crunch. The heart and soul of Houston’s economy, the oil and gas industry, has been hit especially hard.

According to the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, the state had nearly 361,000 oil and gas jobs in 2019. But that’s down to 321,000 this year which is a drop of nearly 40,000 jobs, or 11% of the pre-pandemic workforce.

One company’s vision

A Houston company is launching a program it hopes will pump new life, and jobs, into the energy industry and the local economy.

Max Midstream Texas recently locked in a deal at the Port of Calhoun, about two hours southwest of Houston, to connect three pipelines across the state and export oil. The $1 billion project is expected to create at least a thousand jobs over the next several years.

“A lot of people we’re hiring are in Houston,” said Todd Edwards, President of Max Midstream Texas. “We’re building when the economy is down. Because at some point, it’s going to come back up.”

The project will require engineers and construction workers. If all goes well, eventually it will also need hotel and restaurant workers in Calhoun and Jackson counties.

How long will recovery take?

According to an industry expert at Texas Southern University, a true oil and gas rebound could be several years away.

“It will be a slow recovery,” said Dr. Zahid Iqbal, Associate Dean at TSU’s School of Business. “And it will take two to three years for the economy to go back to pre-COVID level.”

For now, the market has stabilized and so have the layoffs, Iqbal said. But to recover, worldwide demand has to pick up the pace.

“Oil is a global commodity,” he said. “So all the other countries have to do well in order for the price to go up.”

On April 20, the price of oil dipped under $0 for the first time in history. As a result, producers had to pay buyers to take oil off their hands. As of September 28, the price of oil was around $40 per barrel. And the U.S. is producing 3 million fewer barrels per day than it was in March.

Workers on edge

For oil and gas workers and their families, there is still a lot of uncertainty.

“The oil field crashing has been pretty dramatic for most families,” said Valerie Leveck Vela, who moved with her husband and two kids from San Antonio to Katy for his oil job six months ago. “Him having to worry about his job and if it’s secure, that’s a lot, especially when you’ve just relocated your entire family.”

Vela’s family was just getting settled when she found herself out of a job. But now she’s more at ease with her family’s future and looks at the COVID-19 shutdown, and added stress on her family, as a blessing in disguise.

“We really strengthened where we didn’t even know we were weak,” she said.

Jobs available

If you or someone you know would like more information about the Max Midstream project, and potential jobs that are available, click here.

The Texas Workforce Commission also lists more than 500 oil and gas industry jobs on its website.