Energy renaissance should reach urban black communities, panel says

More ways must be found to help people living in urban black communities take fuller advantage of opportunities the recent US oil and gas renaissance has created, participants agreed in a Sept. 18 discussion hosted by the National Association of Neighborhoods (NAN) and American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF).

NAN Executive Director Ricardo C. Byrd, who moderated the proceedings, noted that a Cheniere Energy Inc. official told his group a year ago that it hired welders from Caribbean nations when it could not find any locally to work in constructing its new LNG export facility. “That annoyed me. It was a missed opportunity,” he said.

“The industry has been aggressive in trying to reach people with opportunities not only to become full-time energy company employees, but also suppliers of goods and services,” said American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) Pres. Paula Jackson. “But we still need to find new ways to bring more people in. We need to be more deliberate about trying to reach everybody.”

Margo Thorning, ACCF’s senior vice-president and chief economist, said the US continues to sit on the global sidelines by refusing to adopt a 21st century energy policy that takes full advantage of its abundant resources, and allows more crude oil and LNG to be exported. “The significant economic benefits that would result—increased economic growth, more jobs for Americans, and downward pressure on fuel prices—are undeniable,” she said.

Bill Dickens, a senior utilities economist at Tacoma Power and president of AABE’s Pacific Northwest Chapter, said, “We need to move away from elitist ideas of what defines success. We need to cultivate an environment so young men and women in communities of color can reach their full potential. They need to understand there are no quick fixes. It has to be a slow, deliberate process.”

Strike a balance

Panelists agreed that it’s essential to include climate impacts in the equation when it comes to increasing energy opportunities for African Americans. “We need to think more about balance, and consider not just jobs, but also the environment,” Jackson said. “We need to do the right thing for it, but also provide a strong economic base for people to earn a living.”

Dickens said, “Energy is not a panacea for all the challenges that face African American communities. Unions need to consider how they may be precluding talented men and women from opportunities.”

He noted that the African Methodist Episcopal Church owns 35% of a Kansas oil field that produces 2,000 bbl/month, and is looking for ways to increase its output. “We’ve been on the consumer side of the market,” Dickens said. “Now, we’re emerging as a producer.”

Jackson said policymakers should pay less attention to special interest groups and more to people living in urban black neighborhoods. “It’s important to provide the entire picture—the good, the bad, and the ugly—so people can decide on their own,” she observed. “But it’s also hard to get the word out. In many cases, they haven’t formed an opinion. Our communities have double-digit unemployment rates and other issues that are more pressing than what concerns the American Petroleum Institute or the Sierra Club.

“If we develop policies with the least of us in mind, the rest of us will be okay,” Jackson said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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