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The United States is the world’s leading producer of natural gas, and the nation has a nearly 100-year supply of it. President Barack Obama has directed his administration to safely develop this gas, called shale gas, in a way that will create up to 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade, according to independent experts. The president also called for new rules requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use when accessing and removing shale gas on public lands to make sure public health is protected.

Increasing diverse participation in the energy sector is a major challenge for the energy sector. Currently minorities continue to lag in almost all significant areas. The potential for African-American success in the energy sector is huge, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In a recently released report, the organization says by 2020, it projects that 500,000 jobs will be created in the upstream oil and natural gas sector alone.

With the constant discovery of new energy, drilling resources and technology, and a push for the United States to become energy independent by 2030, the demand is high for more workers in the industry.

“Shale gas and oil and unconventional resources are a big part of why that’s going to happen,” said Talia Buford, an energy reporter for Politico Pro, who moderated a discussion on shale.

A newer energy discovery, shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock formed by consolidated clay or mud. According to the United States Chamber, by 2020, shale energy “could support three million American jobs and $417 billion in economic growth.”

“Job security ranks No. 1 in driving employment decisions for African Americans and Latinos,” said Rayola Dougher, senior economist at the American Petroleum Institute. “Between 2010 and 2020, about one third of the jobs in the oil industry would go to Hispanics and African-Americans.”

Her company’s report says that because the industry represents longevity, financial stability and produces products that are viewed as necessities, these are key drivers to the sector, “even more so than salary considerations.”

The energy sector provides opportunities to branch off into several different paths, Dougher said, including corporate, construction, drilling, chemical, steel, hospitality and trucking. Carlos Rodriguez of the American Institute for Research noted that because of such high demand, many entry-level job salaries start at $60,000; $70,000; or $80,000, possible for a high school graduate.

Industry insiders say that introducing kids to different careers in primary schools and educating communities about the industry in general plays a huge part in making sure African Americans know about the variety of jobs available in the energy sector.

“There’s no substitute for ambassadors for the industry,” said Frank Stewart, former president of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and current managing partner of FM Stewart Consulting.

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