A Texas official says that millennials and “especially students” are posing a staggering threat to the state’s sprawling oil and gas industry and are contributing to sluggish workforce development.
Wayne Christian, a former Republican state representative who has served on the three-person Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) since January 2017, said on Wednesday that younger Texans pose a threat to oil and gas in the nation’s second-largest state.
“The biggest threat to our boom that we see ahead of us … is the misunderstanding of the oil and gas industry and the acceptance of the politically-correct-driven environmental anti-oil and gas science,” Christian said during a legislative meeting addressing oil and gas issues in west Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.
Christian referenced a survey indicating broad disinterest in working in the industry among younger people, a trend he argued was the result of misinformation about fossil fuels.
“Because of that misunderstanding of the oil and gas business and what it has provided mankind … many people don’t want to go into the oil and gas industry … especially students,” he continued.
Christian was testifying before the Texas House Energy Resources Committee, which is currently working to facilitate “public infrastructure and workforce development” in the Permian Basin, an area stretching across large swathes of northwest Texas.
The public infrastructure push comes as the state, a major oil and gas-producer, faces a growing conundrum. Oil prices have rebounded after diving between 2014 and 2016, while Texas itself is on track to beat its own production record from 1972. But state oil employment is at a seven-year low, leaving it closer to the size it was in 2011 during a time of lower production.
Devastation in the Houston area following Hurricane Harvey last year hurt production, but that setback isn’t enough to fully explain the workforce shortage. With the United States predicted to surpass Russia as the world’s top oil producer by the end of 2018, that disinterest isn’t good news for the industry.
Oil and gas, Christian argued Wednesday, has led to a “a better, safer, cleaner environment” — something the RRC member said is going overlooked by young people who might otherwise be interested in oil and gas jobs. Scientists have repeatedly linked fossil fuels to climate change and severe health problems.
The comments come on the heels of a February poll sponsored by the conservative non-profit Alliance for Market Solutions (AMS) that found 3 out of 4 millennials (77 percent) believe it is important to fight global warming. That consensus was bipartisan: 89 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents, and 57 percent of Republicans signaled they felt strongly about the issue.
Of the 800 voters between the ages of 18 and 35 surveyed, only 10 percent opposed action on climate change. More broadly, 9 out of 10 millennials said they believed climate change was real, with the majority, 62 percent, indicating they linked the phenomenon to human activity.
It’s unclear if Texas millennials aren’t seeking jobs in the oil and gas industry because of their beliefs about climate change, but Christian has offered that talking point before.
“We need young people for these jobs, but part of this is the result of what I call the greenie movement, or the Al Gore movement, that has successfully taught our millennial generation that oil and gas is like tobacco: dirty, terrible and you should stay away from it,” Christian said back in December, according to the Midland-Reporter Telegram. (The tobacco and oil industries have actually historically used the same researchers to downplay the dangers of their products.)
He went on to say the public has been overly lax “in allowing the political atmosphere to drive the evidence to the public, our universities and their professors, and our high schools and their teachers, to tell our children that oil and gas is bad and that we need clean, green energy.”
According to the Tribune, only one person mentioned climate change by name during Wednesday’s hearing — and not to acknowledge its existence. Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) blasted a standardized test given to his son in school for referencing the phenomenon and providing multiple choice options as to its causes. “We’re teaching our kids negative things — we’re pre-biasing them,” he said.
While officials debate the root of a shrinking oil and gas workforce, Texas itself is set to suffer outsized consequences due to climate change. A number of studies have shown the U.S. South will be among the worst-hit parts of the country as temperatures rise.
Texas is among the states most vulnerable to climate change. That impact is already being felt: Scientists have blamed warming weather for the devastating scope of Harvey — a storm that killed more than 100 people and cost more than any other storm in history apart from Hurricane Katrina.