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Fact check US: Would Joe Biden’s energy plan really cause the loss of 10.3 million jobs in the oil and gas industry?

Fishermen on the shore by decommissioned oil rigs in Port Aransas, Texas
Fishermen on the shore by decommissioned oil rigs in Port Aransas, Texas (March 11, 2019). Loren Elliott/AFP, CC BY

On August 31, the Trump campaign blog claimed that Joe Biden’s clean-energy plan would cause the loss of 10.3 million jobs related to the oil and gas industry – that is, 6.5% of US jobs in 2019. While fracking has helped the United States become the world’s leading crude-oil producer last year, that figure is still exceedingly high.

To put it in perspective, for 10.3 million jobs to disappear, the entire oil and gas sector, along with all associated activity, would have to shut down. Such claims reflect the hyperbole of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Where did this number come from?

That figure is based on a 2017 study produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade and lobbying association. Going beyond promoting the oil and gas industry, the API has distinguished itself in recent years by funding groups and initiatives that fight efforts to address climate change. In January 2021, the French energy group Total chose to leave the API, citing its opposition to US membership in the Paris climate agreement and its support for officials and groups that minimize or deny climate change.

The API’s study asserts that nearly 2.8 million jobs were directly linked to fossil fuels, including the many freelance workers employed in extraction. The rest are indirect and induced jobs – 5.3 million in sectors sustained by the spending of oil and gas companies (indirect) or that of their workers (induced), as well as 2.2 million generated by the capital investments of companies profiting from these activities.

Some states are certainly highly dependent on the oil and gas industry. In Texas, for example, almost 2 million jobs are in some way related to oil and gas (12.2% of overall employment across the state); in Oklahoma, 16.6% of all jobs are related. According to the API’s study, each job in the petrol and gas industry generates 2.7 jobs in other branches of the economy. This ratio is in line with results published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), estimating the number of additional jobs for each job in the extraction industry at 3.9 in 2019.

Many jobs would remain

When all was said and done, not only did Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, but the Democrats also won control of both the House and the Senate. So does this mean that 10.3 million jobs in the US oil and gas industry will be eliminated if Biden’s energy plan becomes law? Absolutely not and for at least two reasons.

The API’s figures assumes the elimination of jobs that will continue to exist no matter what the US energy sector looks like in the future. Out of the 2.8 million direct jobs, more than 1 million are linked to the distribution of gas and petrol; others are linked to the manufacture of lubricants, or paving mix and asphalt blocks for roads.

Of course, switching to cleaner energy sources would not mark the end of roads or fuel stations; they would simply adapt to consumers’ needs – for example, offering battery-charging facilities or hydrogen fuel. Looking at the associated activities, only 6 million out of the 10.3 million jobs are specifically contingent on oil and gas production. That leaves 4.3 million jobs that will continue untouched.

A net-zero emissions economy by 2050

Biden’s plan does not call for a stop to the extraction of fossil fuels, nor a ban on fracking. Instead, it suggests progressively replacing them with renewable energies that will generate new jobs. His program for a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 provides for $2,000 billion in spending, with the aim of reorienting the automobile industry’s technological strategy, increasing electricity production from clean energy, and repair ecosystems that have been damaged by resource extraction – mainly by abandoned, unplugged gas and oil wells. According to the plan, ecosystem rehabilitation alone would generate 250,000 direct jobs.

Employment losses in the fossil-fuel sector must be weighed against the new jobs that would be created by the swiftly growing renewable-energy sector. The claim that 10.3 million jobs would be lost – even that 6 million would be – is thus very far off the mark.

Fact check US is supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, an American foundation fighting against disinformation.

This article was translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast ForWord

This article was originally published in French

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