×

Oil and gas job cuts: The US regions most at risk

CNBC analysis: Production cutbacks will hit some regions much harder than others

The recent surge in U.S. oil and gas production has also brought a boom in jobs and wages for oilfield workers. Now, as production pulls back, major oil regions are likely to see those economic windfalls fade as well.

To gauge the impact, CNBC looked at seven major U.S. oil-producing regions for which both production and county-level employment data is available.

The results show that the energy boom in the seven regions examined has propelled job creation and wages far above the national averages.

Between 2007 and March of this year (the latest data available), the total level of private employment in the 248 counties in our analysis rose by 5.6 percent — more than twice the national gain of 2.7 percent. Much of the hiring, of course, came in the natural resources and mining sector, which posted job gains of 52 percent.

The oil hiring boom also brought a big boost in local wages that far outpaced the national average. Between 2007 and March of 2015, oilfield workers in the seven fields in our analysis saw their average wage rise by 48 percent to $1,120. The average national paycheck is $857 a week.

The Bakken field in North Dakota stands out for its wage and job growth, largely because it's among the newest fields and because the region had the smallest workforce when production started ramping up a decade ago.

Total employment more than doubled to 131,000 in the Bakken counties we analyzed, but that was still far below employment in larger, more established fields such as the Permian Basin in Texas or the sprawling Marcellus in Pennsylvania. Wages also posted the biggest gains in the Bakken; for all private sector workers, wages jumped 81 percent, to $1,055. For those working in the natural resources sector, wages more than doubled to $1,467 a week.

Now, as a crash in oil prices has many oil producers cutting back on new drilling, many boomtown counties face the prospect of a painful oil bust. That said, many of the production gains in those counties have come from improved methods and technologies that generate more output per worker.

Most other regions, though, saw more modest increases in jobs and wages and therefore face less risk of an oil economy hangover.

While oilfield layoffs are expected in many counties, those workers who remain will likely continue to generate increasing production. That's because of an ongoing increase in the amount of oil and natural gas being produced by advances in horizontal drilling.

Oil producers once were limited to drilling vertical holes in the ground that let them access pockets of oil and gas, but newer rigs are designed to drill sideways, tapping once unreachable reserves spread out like icing in a layer cake. Individual wells, once abandoned as uneconomical, are enjoying a second life, even as oil prices have fallen in half.

The increase output can be seen in the amount of oil and gas being produced for each rig in use. The biggest gains in oil production per rig have come from the Bakken, Eagle Ford and Niobrara fields. Natural gas production is up sharply in the Marcellus, Utica and Eagle Ford fields.