Even with oil prices up more than 50 percent since January, the pain continues in Kern County’s petroleum industry.
The biggest local holdout — Bakersfield-based oil producer Aera Energy LLC, which says it hasn’t had to resort to layoffs since the slump began two years ago — said this week it is considering actions that might affect its employees’ jobs.
If it does let workers go, Aera will be adding to the estimated 3,600 jobs lost in local oil fields since mid-2014, when prices began to fall amid declining demand and surging production.
Since then, the U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, has fallen from the $100 per barrel range to, at its close Thursday, about $45. In January the price dipped below $30.
Chevron has already reported laying off close to 300 Central Valley workers during the downturn. Another large local oil producer, California Resources Corp., said it has let go at least 74 of its employees.
The bulk of the job losses in Kern oil fields has been borne by oil field service companies contracted by producers to perform tasks such as drilling and well maintenance.
Aera spokeswoman Cindy Pollard said by email the company is re-evaluating its business practices “in order to emerge from this period a more competitive company for the long term.” She said the results of the ongoing analysis will impact some of its employees.
“Decisions will not be made lightly and we are committed to treating our people with care and respect,” she wrote.
“At this point, potential actions or timing have not been finalized. As always, we will remain committed to our personal safety and the safety of those around us and fulfill our environmental commitments."
Representatives of local oil companies have said recently they are encouraged by generally higher prices, but that it is unlikely there will be widespread hiring until prices remain elevated for a period of at least six months.
What’s more, oil companies tend to draw up annual budgets at the end of each year. While small oil producers are able to react quickly to market fluctuations, the larger producers tend to stick with longer-term planning, meaning they likely would not revise their employment strategies until early next year at the soonest.