By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

Oil prices are nearly double what they were in first-quarter 2016 and some E&Ps are flirting with the possibilities of growing production as oil prices work to surpass the $50 per barrel mark.

So could this mean better days are on the horizon for the oil and gas workforce?

If the recent rally continues, the answer could be yes.

“Some producers are beginning to see the fruits of the turmoil endured by the industry during this extended contraction of upstream oil and gas activity,” economist Karr Ingham said in a news release from the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. “Dramatically lower demand for drilling, oilfield services, and even labor appear to have driven down costs enough that some operators calculate they can develop some properties profitably with oil prices at current levels.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean challenging days are over.

“There still is a lot of work to do to bring global oil supply and demand into line with one another,” Ingham added. “But that process is playing out before our very eyes.”

While disruptions in Canada, the Middle East and South America helped buoy prices for the short term, outages aren’t forever. However, continuing U.S. production declines are helping keep prices higher.

Some companies are already upping full-year production guidance. These include Devon Energy, which recently said it was increasing its upstream capital program by $200 million to between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion. The updated guidance was delivered as the company announced it was selling its remaining non-core assets in the Midland Basin in two transactions for a combined $858 million.

“The incremental capital investment will be deployed in the Delaware Basin and the Oklahoma Stack play beginning in the third quarter of 2016 with the addition of three operated rigs. Devon is evaluating further accelerating activity in the fourth quarter of 2016,” Devon said in a news release.

The company also raised its full-year 2016 production guidance from its core assets to between 540,000 boe/d and 560,000 boe/d, an increase of 7,000 boe/d.

In addition, Pioneer Natural Resources Co. said it plans to add five horizontal rigs in the second half of 2016. The company shared the news June 15 as it announced its $435 million acquisition of about 28,000 acres in the Midland Basin from Devon.

This could signal a need for more oilfield workers.

“The industry can attract people back to it when it needs to, but it hardly ever turns on a dime,” Ingham told Fuel Fix. “When hiring begins, it’ll be in small numbers.”

But even a slight hiring pickup would be welcomed by any of the hundreds of thousands of people that have lost their jobs.

Chevron, National Oilwell Varco, Schlumberger, Shell and many others have eliminated jobs, seeking to reduce costs at the market works to rebalance itself.

The latest release from the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers showed that more than 100,000 upstream jobs have been cut from payrolls in Texas alone. The oil and gas industry employed just more than 205,000 Texans in May, down a third from the December 2014 high of about 306,000.

“The last time industry employment was this low was in late 2010, as the last expansion of upstream oil and gas activity in Texas was just beginning to take off,” Ingham said.

With those days seemingly long ago, it’s good news to see companies, if not taking off, at least taxiing to the runway.

Velda Addison can be reached at