Layoffs despite upswing in energy market

BIG PINEY – This autumn, two energy companies operating in the Big Piney/ Marbleton area eliminated dozens of local jobs despite a recent upswing in the energy industry in Wyoming. EOG Resources laid off 17 contract employees in southern Sublette County, according to Sam Bixler, an economic development consultant for Big Piney and Marbleton. Basic Energy Services also closed their offices in La Barge, removing an unspecified number of jobs from the local economy, Bixler said. When contacted by the Examiner, EOG Resources offered no comment on the number of layoffs or the reasons behind the job cuts. “As a matter of policy, EOG does not discuss specific personnel decisions,” EOG representative Creighton Welch told the Examiner. “However, we continuously evaluate our workforce needs based on our business plans.” At press time, Basic Energy had not responded to multiple queries from the Examiner for comment. Marbleton Mayor Jim Robinson said that the job losses are “definitely going to affect us, but it’s a little early to determine what the long term effects will be for our community.” Robinson added that the “tight knit” community will weather the losses. “People will stick together and help each other out in any way they can,” he said. Despite the job losses, Robinson was hopeful about the future outlook for the local economy. Conditions in the local gas and oil business are “steadily improving” due to a “ramp-up in the energy industry,” Robinson said. “Quite a few jobs” were available in the area, including some recent open positions with Exxon-Mobil, he added. Overall, the energy industry and employment levels appear to be improving in Wyoming after experiencing deep losses earlier in the decade. Reports from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services show that the unemployment rate in Sublette County dropped from a high of 5.7 percent in July 2016 to 3.8 percent in September 2018. Unemployment in the county grew, however, from an August 2018 low of 3.4 percent. “Statewide, we continue to see growth in oil and gas employment during 2018,” said David Bullard, senior economist at the Department of Workforce Services, “Through September 2018, we saw an increase of 1,200 jobs, or a 6 percent growth, in all mining jobs including gas and oil.” Job growth in the energy sector is not evenly spread across the state, however. Bullard stated that while oil and gas employment in Sublette County increased through Layoffs despite upswing in energy market 2017 and early 2018, reports from May and June 2018 showed a drop in employment in the county’s oil and gas industry. The oil industry in Wyoming is showing significant growth. Oil production in August 2018 was up 20 percent from the year before as oil prices continue to rise, said Mark Watson, agency director for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Despite some volatility over the year, oil prices have risen steadily after dropping below $30 a barrel during the winter of 2016 to around $55 a barrel this week, market reports from NASDAQ show. While oil is picking up in the state, especially in the Powder River Basin, Watson said that the natural gas sector was still experiencing a “slow decline” in Wyoming. Natural gas production dropped approximately 2 percent a year since 2009, Watson said, due to a depression in natural gas prices over the last 10 years and overproduction, or a “glut,” on the market. Watson added that a particularly cold winter or hot summer (the use of natural gas air conditioning is growing) might raise demand and prices. John Robitaille, vice president of the independent Petroleum Association of Wyoming, suggested that both the oil and gas industry were on the upswing in Wyoming. “Overall, what we’ve seen is a pretty steady increase in energy activity in the state, particularly in the Powder River oil fields,” he said. “But we are also seeing some growth in activity in the Anticline, particularly with Jonah Energy’s exploration of horizontal wells.” Robitaille said that the “upsurge” in the energy industry was “good news” for the gas industry in Sublette County. He said natural gas prices were starting to pick up due to significantly cold winter weather moving into the East Coast, increasing demand. Natural gas market reports from Bloomberg show a sharp increase from $3.14 per unit on Oct. 23 to $4.52 on Nov. 20. Paul Ulrich, director of government affairs at Jonah Energy, told the Examiner that Jonah Energy is optimistic about the potential benefits exploration in horizontal drilling over the past years will bring to the county. The technology involved in horizontal drilling posed challenges, Ulrich said, but the results showed a “striking difference” in productivity and efficiency over vertical drilling. Two energy companies with operations in Sublette County reported that local activity and job retention remain stable. Casey Knotts, field supervisor at the Big Piney office for Northern Lights Energy Company, reported that while local conditions were “pretty slow right now,” operations were “holding steady and plugging along.” He added that “we’re still working” with the same number of employees. Northern Lights is a “slickline provider” specializing in building cables to transmit data and tools down wells. Rick Rainey, vice president of public relations at Enterprise Products, a national energy company with operations in the county, said that “from an operations standpoints, all is stable in the Jonah/Pinedale region and our assets are performing as expected.”


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