EIA: Oil layoffs aren’t finished yet

HOUSTON — Big Oil’s mass layoff announcements appear to have subsided for now, but a new report from government analysts suggests they might not be over.

The U.S. petroleum industry lost about 6.5 percent of its jobs from October to April, or about 35,000 of its 538,000 workers, the Energy Information Administration said Tuesday, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

But job cuts tend to trail far behind oil price collapses. In the most recent bust in 2008 and 2009, U.S. oil and gas jobs reached a new high two months after oil prices started to sink. Then the jobs evaporated for 13 months, putting 51,000 employees out of work.

More than 80 percent of those jobs were cut after oil prices hit rock bottom and then started to recover, the EIA said.

This time around, the oil industry will probably continue to cut jobs in coming months even if oil prices prove to be stable at $60 a barrel, said Grant Nülle, an EIA analyst. And because the current downturn probably won’t see a rapid price recovery like the one in 2009, there could continue to be pressure on the oil job market for even longer than the 13 months after the 2009 recovery.

The EIA’s oil-price forecast keeps U.S. crude trading between $60 and $65 a barrel through most of 2016.

“You’re working from a larger base of jobs this time, so you may see larger declines,” he said. “There are a number of folks out there who have been surprised at how much discipline has been applied by the U.S. producers, and how quickly they started reining in capital expenditures.”

The EIA noted that so far, Texas has actually seen its jobless rate dip from 4.7 percent in October to 4.1 percent in May, “because of offsetting growth in other areas of its more diverse economy.” In North Dakota and Oklahoma, two other big energy-producing states, the unemployment rate has increased slightly.

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