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This Week in Texas Energy: Texas Oil Companies Hire 30,000 Workers Over Past Year

Plus: Rick Perry makes a fossil fuel gaffe, a $100 million West Texas solar project goes on hold, and Exxon starts looking into green energy.

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The shadows of workers with Apache Corporation are viewed at a drilling rig in the Permian Basin in Mentone, Texas.
Spencer Platt/Getty

On the Rebound

Texas oil companies hired more than 30,000 workers over the past year, according to the Houston Chronicle. The number of Texas oil and gas workers topped 222,000 in September, up 16 percent from about 192,000 in the same month last year, which was the lowest point since the Great Recession in 2009. It’s a nice rebound after a third of the industry’s workforce statewide was laid off during the oil bust, but it’s still far behind where it was at the peak of the oil boom in 2014, when Texas had more 295,000 jobs. “Crude oil prices in Texas have been the essence of stability for more than a year,” Texas economist Karr Ingham said in a statement, according to the Chronicle. “Demand is beginning to show signs of recovery and foreign oil suppliers led by OPEC appear to be committed to maintaining announced production cuts.” Ingham’s Texas Petro Index measures activity in the business of pumping oil from the earth, and it rose for the tenth consecutive month in September, to 181.4 points—21.4 percent more than September 2016.

Fossil Brain

Energy Secretary Rick Perry once again found himself in the middle of a controversy of his own making, after claiming last week that fossil fuels would help stop sexual assault in Africa. “It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, ‘one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people,’” the ex-Texas governor and former Dancing With The Stars contestant said during an energy policy event in Washington on Thursday. “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault. When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts.” As Texas Monthly‘s Doyin Oyeniyi noted, Perry didn’t specify which villages from 54 African countries he was referring to, though one study has found that installing more lights and cameras in public spaces would be a “quick gain” to addressing sexual assault in South Africa.

West Texas Solar Farm Put on Hold

A $100 million solar energy project slated for West Texas has been halted as President Donald Trump mulls whether to impose tariffs on cheap imported solar equipment, according to the Dallas Morning News. The 100-megawatt solar farm near Fort Stockton has been put on “indefinite hold” until after Trump’s decision, Scott Canada, senior vice president of renewable energy for McCarthy Building Companies, told the Morning News. The delay has cost Texas about three hundred to four hundred jobs, as the company would have employed that many people for about nine months at the peak of construction. “It’s been a significant hit just within the last six months,” Canada told the Morning News about a federal agency’s recommendation to impose up to 35 percent tariff on imports. “Every one of our customers said things are pretty much indefinitely on hold until there’s clarity.” Several other large projects across Texas have been delayed or cancelled while awaiting Trump’s decision on the tariffs.

Exxon Looks in a New Direction

Exxon is reportedly researching hundreds of “green” projects, according to Bloomberg. The Dallas-based company’s new research on environmentally friendly technologies includes hundreds of low-carbon projects, including algae that is engineered to bloom into biofuels and cells that turn emissions into electricity. Exxon is still at least a decade away from any commercial breakthrough, but it’s a big deal that the world’s biggest oil giant is exploring the reality of a future where fossil fuels are less relied upon. “These areas are massively challenging, and if we can solve those, they will have huge impacts on our business,” Exxon’s vice president of research and development Vijay Swarup told Bloomberg. “We bring more than money. We bring the science, the commitment to research.”

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