As the United States transitions to a new era of domestic energy production, the oil and gas industry and other sectors could play a key role in helping underserved communities “secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights,” according to a report published Tuesday by the National Urban League’s (NUL) Washington Bureau.

With newfound domestic energy abundance made possible by energy development and growth in renewables, NUL said 2016 marks an “important moment” in the energy sector. The group said its report should serve as “a starting place for…creating more equitable policies in how energy is used and greater participation in how our community can help shape those policies and greater participation.”

Estimating 1.4 million jobs in U.S. oil and gas and petrochemical sectors, one million direct and indirect jobs in electricity and transmission and 200,000 jobs in the solar industry, NUL wrote that “the energy sector is a people intensive industry with opportunities to explore across the nation and at all levels.”

As the current workforce ages, around 1.9 million job opportunities are anticipated within these industries through 2035, NUL said.

“With the right emphasis, training, and preparation, the prospects for growth in employment among African Americans and Latinos in the energy industry are good. In the next seven to 10 years, electric and natural gas utilities will see up to one half of their personnel retire,” NUL wrote. “Addressing this skills gap presents an historic opportunity to create a workforce that reflects the increasing diversity of our nation. Further, as America continues to transition to cleaner and renewable energy, the employment and economic opportunities for African Americans and other minorities could be immense.”

The growth in U.S. oil and gas production now puts the nation in “a position of energy leadership that was unthinkable a short time ago.” The industry now “represents a significant opportunity for job growth among racially and ethnically diverse communities,” NUL wrote.

NUL cited a report published earlier this year by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that identified current and projected totals for industry employment of women and minorities (see Shale Daily, March 10). As of 2015, the U.S. oil and gas industry employed 94,000 African Americans and 283,500 Latinos out of 1.4 million total jobs, according to the API-backed report.

“While the oil and natural gas industry should be acknowledged for assessing the opportunities by providing the data on current and future workforce opportunities as well as starting a conversation about greater inclusion, the industry still has a long way to go,” NUL wrote. “In 2014, African Americans represented 12% of the U.S. Labor force yet only 7% of the oil and gas workforce. Further, according to their own projections, African Americans are expected to make up slightly more than 6% of the workforce by 2035 if significant improvements are not made.”

NUL pointed to several existing programs in the energy industry as positive steps, such as the Center for Energy Workforce Development.

“The oil and natural gas industry has also been developing strategies, research, and programs to better understand the challenges and create greater public awareness of the opportunities associated with engaging and growing high impact strategic partnerships based on shared interests in job creation and workforce opportunities in the industry,” NUL wrote. “This focus on greater collaboration, outreach and education with African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, millennials, veterans, and women begins with in-depth research and is in support of developing and preparing for the industry’s workforce of the future.”