This blog post is the third in a weekly series throughout July examining opportunities in different sectors of America’s diverse economy.  

A sunset view of a Texas oil rig in operation.

An oil rig in Texas. Orange County once had a large oil industry, and rigs are still in use in Brea and Huntington Beach. Image from Pixabay.

Long dependent on foreign oil, the U.S. can now boast the world’s largest domestic oil production. But it’s not all about oil – the nation’s diverse energy sector includes wind and solar energy, nuclear power and alternative fuels.

In 2014, the U.S. economy accomplished what only a few decades ago would have been unthinkable. America became the world’s top oil producer, with 12.7 million barrels per day, knocking Saudi Arabia to second place. In the 10 states at the epicenter of America’s post-recession oil boom, employment has outpaced the national average and added $300 billion to $400 billion annually to the nation’s economy. According to some estimates, without this industry’s expansion, the nation would still be mired in recession.

From Oil Producer to Oil Dependency – And Back Again

This is not the first oil boom in America. Oil was a major industry in the U.S. more than a century ago, following the discovery of the Spindletop geyser in Beaumont, Texas, forever associating the Lone Star State with oil. By 1902, more than 1,500 oil companies had been chartered in the U.S. But America’s oil industry extends even further – oil was first tapped at its source in Pennsylvania in 1859, and settlers noted oil slicks off the California coast during the 1500s.

John D. Rockefeller started one of the world’s wealthiest business dynasties with his Standard Oil Company. Yet the world wars and economic development of the 20th century depleted the nation’s oil reserves, forcing policymakers to look elsewhere for oil sources.

The Middle East and Venezuela became major oil sources for America and other nations, with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) a key player in setting global prices. From the 1970s to the 2000s, American alliance with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states was based on oil.

For several decades, U.S. presidents have called for energy policies to end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. This vision has started to be realized with the shale revolution, wrought by advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking.

The oil industry now accounts for more than 11% of the workforce in Wyoming and a significant number of employees in Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

A man works on an oil rig in Texas.

Some jobs in the energy sector involve very physical work, but the pay is generally good and job opportunities plentiful. Image from Pixabay.

Jobs in Alternative Energy

Renewable energy sources include hydropower, ethanol, thermal, wind and solar. These sources are environmentally sustainable and also work to achieve energy independence. In 2015, renewable energy comprised 10% of the nation’s energy consumption and 13% of its electricity generation. These figures are sure to increase due to concerns over climate change.

Job openings in clean energy, which include employment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling, natural resource conservation, and environmental compliance and education, totaled 3.6 million in 2013, 3.8 million in 2014 and 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2015 alone.

Finding a job in alternative energy can start with a simple search under those keywords at Indeed.com.

Careers in Energy

Careers in energy generally fall into four broad categories: engineering, installation and repair, production, and construction. Some of these positions are among the highest-paid blue collar jobs in America today. Additionally, energy companies and government regulators employ statisticians, supervisors, managers and marketers.

The energy sector needs professionals with a basic understanding of the science and technology required in powering modern industrialized societies, innovative thinking and the ability to communicate energy concepts to corporate and public audiences.

For more on finding energy-sector careers in the public, corporate and nonprofit areas, visit the careers page of the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

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