BY BRIAN BUSH
As state policymakers debate how to increase Oklahoma’s historically significant role in energy exploration and production, I hope that both state and federal officials will keep in mind the growing concern among voters regarding unnecessary federal regulations that are hamstringing our energy industry.
Business leaders and elected officials need to work together to educate Washington policymakers on the importance of rolling back unnecessary regulations on our five petroleum refiners as well as the 23 Oklahoma companies that provide products and services to our refineries.
A robust energy-manufacturing industry means high-paying jobs for Oklahomans. In fact, workers in the American refining industry earn an average hourly wage that’s nearly 50 percent higher than the national aver age, with Oklahoma’s refinery workers annually pocketing more than $73,000 on average. The oil and gas industry contributes $17.8 billion to the state’s labor income and $14.3 billion to its overall economy. Thanks to this steady energy production, Oklahomans enjoy some of the cheapest electricity and gasoline in the nation.
Too many people are out of work because of regulation run amok.
With one in every seven jobs in Oklahoma directly or indirectly supported by the oil and natural gas industry, it’s hard to overstate its economic importance. The prospect of producing even more energy jobs has the potential to position the state as a national leader in America’s economic recovery. Oklahoma contributes 3 percent of total U.S. oil production each year and can boast 10 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production. With more than a dozen of the country’s 100 largest natural gas fields located in Oklahoma, the potential for further development is very promising. On top of that, consider that Oklahoma’s five petroleum refineries have a combined capacity of roughly 3 percent of the total U.S. distillation capacity.
Despite this huge potential for growth, too many people remain out of work because of government regulation run amok. Examples are plentiful. For instance, although American refineries have reduced gasoline sulfur levels by 90 percent since 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency is demanding additional reductions despite little evidence that the rule would produce significant health or environmental benefits. And the Obama administration has imposed new regulatory burdens that make domestic oil and gas production slower and more expensive. New rules on some federal lands have eliminated energy production altogether.
Federal regulators are causing needless job losses, driving up energy costs, stifling America’s ability to compete and threatening our energy security. It’s clear that federal officials should pay closer attention to Oklahoma citizens who value high-paying energy and manufacturing jobs over rules that often do more harm than good.
Bush is executive vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank based in Oklahoma City.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.