By Janelle Stecklein

CNHI State Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly 1 in 5 new jobs in Oklahoma are connected to the oil and gas industry, according to a study released Wednesday by Oklahoma City University.

Oil and gas employment in the private sector accounted for less than 5 percent of the state’s total employment in 2012, but the industry added more than 20 percent of the 61,000 new jobs in Oklahoma since 2010, according to the report by the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute.

The study was commissioned by Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, which promotes the oil and gas industry.

The study found that those working in the industry collect an average annual pay of $94,527 before benefits, said Russell Evans, executive director of the Policy Institute. That's far better than the median earnings for all Oklahoma workers of $26,700 per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There’s no surprises here,” Evans said. “The magnitude of the numbers may be a surprise, but the reality that the oil and gas is still driving the economic activity I don’t think comes as a surprise to anyone who looks out their window as they drive out across Oklahoma.”

Last year Oklahoma ranked fifth in the nation for crude oil production, producing 4.11 percent of the total U.S. supply. Evans noted that some experts think the state may surpass Alaska and California over the next few years to claim the No. 3 spot.

Oklahoma ranked fourth in natural gas production, with 7.11 percent of the nation's supply. (Texas holds the top spot for both oil and natural gas production by a wide margin, the study found.)

Evans said the industry generates nearly $1 of every $3 of Oklahoma’s gross state product, and nearly $1 of every $2 in non-farm earnings.

“The economic impacts of the oil and gas industry dwarf anything else that you look at,” he said.

Evans said one of the most striking parts of the report is how Oklahoma counties with the greatest production in 2012 also appeared to have the lowest unemployment.

Pittsburg County, southeast of Oklahoma City, benefits from oil production and boasts an unemployment rate between 4 and 5.9 percent, he noted. Some surrounding counties are considered to have “persistent poverty," however, and post unemployment rates of more than 8 percent. Some of those counties also have production rates among the state's lowest.

The study did not consider impacts of several non-economic issues of increasing concern to residents living in oil-rich areas. They include a rise in earthquake activity and groundwater contamination that some attribute to the industry, and specifically fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, activity. Both issues are being studied by the Legislature.

Evans said the study shows that policymakers should nurture the state’s energy industry “because it offers so many positive spillovers.”

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