Alaska oil and gas jobs slow to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels

An oil platform at dusk
Cook Inlet oil platforms are visible from shore near Kenai, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Employment in Alaska’s oil and gas sector is still lagging in 2022, according to an October report from the Alaska Department of Labor.

Jobs have been slow to recover across many industries since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The report said Alaska lost about 26,270 jobs in 2020.

But oil and gas — which is tied to roughly 1 in 5 jobs in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, according a 2021 report from the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District — is having an especially hard time bouncing back. The industry lost over 2,046 jobs in 2020 and then another 1,489 in 2021.

“I would’ve expected that employment would’ve recovered more than it has so far,” said Neal Fried, a state economist.

Fried said last month that even though oil prices have been relatively high and companies have more money to spend, it hasn’t been followed by a big surge in activity.

He said that’s partly because the state’s industry is very project-oriented. There’s often a longer lag time between changes in oil prices and new investment than there may be elsewhere.

“And some of it’s just been reluctance of investment,” Fried said. “And that’s nationally, and internationally. That’s not just in Alaska. It’s just been more accentuated in Alaska than it’s been elsewhere”

Even when there are new oil and gas projects, like those offshore in Cook Inlet and a potential project in Willow, those projects often create temporary jobs, not permanent ones, according to the department’s report.

Still, Alaska is gaining some jobs in the industry — just slowly. The report estimates the state will see an additional 2,000 oil and gas jobs by 2030, which would bring the industry to just above its pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast Region of Alaska, which includes the Kenai Peninsula, saw an overall rate of job growth of just over 3 percent from Aug. 2021 to Aug. 2022, according to the state’s report.

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