CASPER — For workers in Wyoming’s mining industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal.
A new report published by Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division this week shows the mining sector lost more jobs than any other sector late last year. The sector recorded 6,000 fewer jobs in November — a staggering 29% decline from a year ago.
The mining sector encompasses a wide variety of jobs that involve the extraction of oil, gas, coal, trona, uranium and even copper, according to Dylan Bainer, the state’s principal economist.
The collapse in energy markets worldwide incited by the pandemic led many mineral producers to dramatically scale back production, shut in wells and hope for better times.
“This is the 11th consecutive month the mining sector has experienced year-over-year declines in employment,” Bainer said.
Sales and use taxes also lost substantial ground in Wyoming in the close of last year.
Mining companies contributed $6.7 million less in taxes last month, compared to December 2019. That’s a 67% drop. Counties dependent on energy and other mineral jobs have buckled under the loss of the once dependable tax base.
In December, sales and use tax collection was down 41% year to date in Campbell County, a loss of about $4 million for the county.
Coal production in November in Wyoming landed at 19.2 million tons, 3.3 million tons shy of 2019. Annual coal production in Wyoming last year fell by about 20%, according to initial data collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
According to Rick Mansheim, manager of the Workforce Services in Gillette, the number of workers coming into the center seeking help has stabilized since the rush he saw in the beginning days of the pandemic. But when it comes to jobs in the mining sector, they’re becoming more few and far between, he said.
There could be a slight reprieve for coal miners in the near term, but it could be temporary. Energy analysts predict higher natural gas prices could help boost coal production in 2021.
The average natural gas price at the Opal Hub in December came out to $3.24 per million British thermal units, about $0.34 higher than the average in December 2019. Utilities can provide electricity to customers using natural gas or coal, but generally gravitate toward the cheaper power source.
Oil and gas activity has also been slow to recover in Wyoming, though commodity prices have been somewhat revived since the beginning of the pandemic.