Getting Trade Readjustment Allowance for Shalefield Workers

In 1974, The Trade Adjustment Act was passed, establishing a benefit for workers separated from their jobs due to foreign trade, Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA). Here is a brochure from the Department of Labor with an overview of the program (Link).

The TRA benefit has been modified over the years, but currently includes extended unemployment benefits (normal unemployment compensation only extends 26 weeks), free retraining, relocation assistance if workers find jobs outside of their area, an Obamacare credit to purchase health insurance, and assistance to workers over 50. See here for specifics (Link).

It’s not ideal and is a pittance compared to what workers were compensated before the downturn in shale gas production driven by both overproduction in North America and foreign imports of oil from OPEC nations. However, in lieu of any sound just transition policy to help energy sector workers after boom and bust cycles like the one we’re facing nationall, TRA is worth pursuing.

For any shalefield workers who need an ally or assistance in applying for TRA benefits, the Northeast Pennsylvania Workers’ Help Line is accessible to support this effort:
(570) 478-3IWW or (570) 478-3499. Petitioners may receive assistance in preparing the petition at their local American Job Center, by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. at 202-693-3560 (Main Number).

I took some time today to research the possibility of shalefield workers obtaining Trade Readjustment Allowance and found many recent decisions denying workers across the country laid off due to the downturn in production.

The Department of Labor finds in most of the cases that:

"the investigation revealed that imports of crude oil, natural gas, 
or NGLs did not contribute importantly to worker separations.  
Aggregate United States imports of crude oil, natural gas, or 
NGLs did not increase during the same period of time in which 
United States production of crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs 
were decreasing (2014 compared 2013 and January through May 
2015 compared to the corresponding 2014 period). The 
petitioner's allegation of the price of oil falling did not 
correlate to an increase in aggregate United States imports of 
crude oil, natural gas, and/or NGLs while United States 
production of crude oil, natural gas and/or NGLs was 

Sample Denials:
Cyclone Drilling, Wyoming:
Horizon Energy Services, Oklahoma:
Schlumberger, Oklahoma:
Baker Hughes, Pennsylvania:
Precision Energy Services, Pennsylvania:

However, I found one application from the shale gas era where 45 workers were certified and approved for TRA at Cimmaron Energy.

Cimarron Energy, Oklahoma:
"Section 222(a)(2)(A)(i) has been met because the sales 
and/or production of oil and gas separators by Cimarron Energy 
have decreased absolutely.  
      Section 222(a)(2)(A)(ii) has been met because imports of 
articles like or directly competitive with the articles 
produced by Cimarron Energy have increased in 2015 from 2014 
      Finally, Section 222(a)(2)(A)(iii) has been met because 
increased imports contributed importantly to the worker group 
separations and sales/production declines at Cimarron Energy.

I don’t think the investigations in the denial cases adequately included the interrelatedness of pipelines, rail infrastructure, and oil & gas production with Canada, which drives down prices and production in the United States. There should also be more investigation into how OPEC imports displace production and refining domestically that I feel the Department of Labor is overlooking.

In closing, I believe that it would be worth a shot for laid off workers in the shale gas and shale oil industries to start applying for TRA benefits. It’s a short application, with no penalty for applying. It’s important that they allege that foreign imports of oil and gas have caused the downturn and supply information to the Department of Labor with their application. DOL employees are not trained energy economists and could probably be swayed, as in Cimarron Energy’s case, to approve benefits for workers who desperately need them.