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Oil and gas are riding high now, but the US offshore wind industry is sucking talent and supply chain interest out of the fossil fuel balloon.

Clean Power

US Offshore Wind Industry Sucking Up Talent From Oil & Gas

Oil and gas are riding high now, but the US offshore wind industry is sucking talent and supply chain interest out of the fossil fuel balloon.

File this one under D for Death by a thousand cuts. The US oil and gas industry is facing a workforce crisis in the next five years or so, and now here comes the red-hot US wind industry to add fuel to the fire. It seems that the offshore wind industry is beginning to steal talent from its fossil fuel cousins, as many offshore energy skills translate almost seamlessly from one resource to another.

offshore wind industry usa

Workforce crisis for oil an&d gas

For all the cheerleading over US oil and gas production, a big question mark looms ahead: who’s gonna man the pumps?

Two researchers at Columbia University recently took a long, hard look at the problem and observed that “almost a quarter of U.S. employees in the natural gas and electricity utilities sector will be approaching retirement within five years, necessitating a large recruitment of new talent.”

That’s just utilities. The aging of the US population is also going to impact the US oil and gas industry in terms of physical fitness for manual labor — right about the time when the nation’s infrastructure bottleneck finally breaks open (if all goes according to plan), with a consequent increase in demand for workers across all construction sectors.

Speaking of manning the pumps, man is the operative word here. The US workforce is becoming more female and more diverse, which makes recruiting all the more challenging for an industry long dominated by men.

The oil and gas industry also has some ‘splaining to do when the topic turns to recruiting people of color. That goes for pipeline construction as well as drilling and other related activities.

It’s true that the energy sector is far from the only career field in which people of color are under-represented. However, the oil and gas area is unique for its social equity baggage in the form of local pollution and environmental justice issues, despite which it continues to enjoy a hefty share of tax breaks based on the premise that more drilling benefits everybody.

Aside from losing hands-on workers, the oil and gas industry also risks losing out in the innovation race as college grads and entrepreneurs look elsewhere for fulfilling opportunities in the energy sector.

The American Petroleum Institute is well aware of the industry’s recruitment and diversity issue, but stepping up recruitment efforts is a day late and a dollar short. The oil and gas industry faces something that was virtually nonexistent 10 years ago: stiff competition for workers from the fast-growing renewable energy sector.

Throw energy storage and energy efficiency into the mix, and — well, just throw them in and see what happens.

All this is by way of saying that the oil and gas industry only has to look at the US coal industry to see the consequences of failure to adapt, innovate, diversify, and attract top talent.

Look out, here comes the offshore wind industry to steal your talent

Against this backdrop, our friends over at The Houston Chronicle reports that attendance at the important Oil Technology Conference last week is down for the 5th straight year:

Last year, attendance was 61,300, the lowest since 2006 and more than 40 percent off the 108,300 record set in 2014, a time when oil prices were hovering around $100 a barrel.


NBC affiliate DFW also has the scoop on the OTC. They highlight the rising interest in offshore wind, right there in the stronghold of oil and gas production:

Renewable energy has arrived in full force at OTC, which runs through Thursday, as more traditional oil producers — and the service and equipment companies that serve them — look to diversify their portfolios.

NBC cites Dominique Roddier, former Exxon Mobil employee turned chief technology officer at Principle Power. NBC noted that “more engineers, geoscientists and developers like Roddier are switching from offshore oil to offshore wind” because “they can apply some of the same skills, philosophies, safety standards and technical know-how to renewable energy.”

Principle Power, btw, is one of the leading innovators in the floating wind turbine field.

NBC also teased out the ripple effect on the offshore wind supply chain:

In years past, the British company Survitec played up its life boats and other personal protection gear to the oil company representatives at OTC. But this year, the company decided to focus on how it supports the renewables industry with protective clothing for power production platforms.

Speaking of workforce diversity & offshore wind…

Another interesting angle teased out by NBC is the presence of Doreen Harris on the OTC speaker’s list.

Harris oversees the Energy and Environmental Markets group at NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. If that doesn’t ring any bells, think renewable energy with a strong focus on offshore wind as well as solar and onshore wind.

NYSERDA is the reason that the Empire State won a competitive race to establish a new national wind energy hub under the auspices of the US Department of Energy. The collaborative public-private effort is aimed at pushing new wind tech into the offshore wind and onshore markets at a rapid clip. I know, right? Weird!

Harris’s group covers New York’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Clean Air Interstate Rule among other major renewable energy programs, so the big question is what she was doing at OTC.

Speaking, that’s what! CleanTechnica is reaching out to Harris for some additional insights on the conference, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Block Island offshore wind farm in Rhode Island via Deepwater Wind.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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