- - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

As a whole, America’s job numbers are appalling. At least 12.6 million people have dropped out of the work force. Millions of Americans who had a job when George W. Bush was president don’t have one now. Future job prospects look abysmal, clear across the demographics — men, women, teens, minorities, recent graduates and seniors.

Twenty percent of the American population is on food stamps, and there is no answer in sight for the country’s misery, except the American shale revolution.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, in passing, President Obama took undeserved credit for increased American oil and gas production before he returned to his usual liberal agenda of government programs, including raising the minimum wage.

What Mr. Obama didn’t tell the American people is this: The oil patch is hiring right now, and the jobs offered pay much better than the federal minimum wage.

Three factors are driving this: First, there is what the International Energy Agency in Paris calls the “relentless rise” of American oil production. Since the American shale revolution began a few years ago, the energy-sector forecasters have had to revise their estimates repeatedly and always upward. American natural-gas production numbers are also running at record levels.

Second, there is a generational shift going on inside the oil and gas industry. Employment ramped up in the early 1980s, but with oil prices stagnant thereafter, the industry wasn’t an attractive career clear through the mid-2000s. As a result, there is a bulge of people in the oil and gas industry that is retiring, leaving the companies scrambling to replace them.

Third, there are new kinds of jobs, especially environment-related, in the oil and gas industry that didn’t exist 30 years ago, as well as new ways of using the surplus oil and gas production. For example, they are working on new technologies to use natural gas to power locomotives and ships.

In short, we have a hugely expanding private-sector industry faced with departing senior employees as well as new ways to use the resulting product. Demand for new employees is high and growing, but supply is problematic.

For the next 20 years, there is simply nothing on the horizon either in the United States or even the world economy to match this level of labor demand for good, well-paying jobs and prospect for advancement. It’s a golden opportunity, especially for American young people.

How do you become part of that employee seller’s market?

Certainly, if you are a recent graduate in anything with “petroleum” or “chemical” on your diploma, you are in about the same position as a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback approaching the NFL draft. It’s just a matter of who offers you the most.

Beyond this level of oil-patch royalty, there are plenty of good jobs available directly in oil and gas production or the related chemical field. Anyone with experience in the oil fields — drillers, pumpers, welders and the like — has a wide choice of firms looking to hire them. There are job fairs in San Antonio every week.

No experience in the oil field? Not a problem. One of the major players in oil-patch employment, Rigzone.com, lists 156 openings under sales and marketing. That includes inside and outside sales, and account representatives. Rigzone.com also has openings for warehouse personnel.

Are you a recent college graduate with a humanities degree that isn’t that much in demand? Look around for an overworked oil and gas lawyer, and offer to help out searching titles in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Texas or North Dakota.

In a very few short years, you, too, have a chance to work up to become vice president of land acquisition for a medium-sized Pennsylvania oil and gas driller.

Maybe you’re a recent high school graduate without experience in much of anything and from a depressed community in, say, upstate New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t allow fracking. If you have a driver’s license and are willing to put in a lot of overtime, there’s a $96,000 a year job for you in North Dakota.

Do you prefer to work home construction? Homebuilding, especially luxury, custom-built homes is exploding in San Antonio as the oil company executives move closer to the Eagle Ford shale play.

Or are you a single mom facing a tough go of it? Again, if you have a driver’s license, you have a good job waiting for you in the oil patch. Each of these are examples of real jobs filled by real people.

What does it really take to get a job like this? First, you have to be ambitious, industrious and adaptable to the point of being maybe a bit adventuresome. North Dakota in the winter and South Texas in the summer are not for the Brie and Chablis set.

Second, you have to pass random drug tests. Nobody is going to let you so much as drive their gravel truck if you aren’t 100 percent.

According to every estimate, there is no reason the American shale revolution can’t last for decades. Millions of new people are going to make the industry a fascinating and well-paid career, if it is not brought to a halt by government action.

William C. Triplett II is a national security and energy writer in Washington.

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