A few months back, CNBC had a message of hope for some laid-off oil workers: U.S. energy companies could soon face a serious worker shortage.

CNBC cited a report by Goldman Sachs believing a big comeback was in the cards for the next year for oil and gas companies. If a ramp-up in drilling activity picks up the way analysts predict, the industry would need to add 80,000 to 100,000 jobs between now and the end of 2018. We've seen this in the past when shale oil and gas added 233,000 jobs between mid-2009 and late 2014.

Indeed, oil and gas companies in general have refocused drilling efforts in places like the Permian Basin and the Stack in Oklahoma, where, according to The Wall Street Journal, wells are pulling anywhere from 10 percent and 30 percent returns on oil at $45 a barrel.

The Permian has seen an upswing in recent years in terms of pure drilling activity. In a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration this week, data shows that the Permian now holds nearly as many active oil rigs as the rest of the U.S. combined, including both onshore and offshore rigs. 

Arno Bracco Gartner, a director with the technical staffing agency Brunel, said there are other positives for the upswing. Due to the downturn, companies will likely maintain a more responsible mix of staff and contractor personnel – something his company has already discussed at length with clients.

“Apart from the current price of oil, the shale market now has a more sustainable future than before,” Gartner said. “People with specific skills, but also those with a mid- to longer-term interest, will likely return.” 

Oilpro's own Enno Peters wrote about the steady increase in oil production in the Permian, but also acknowledged it has been at a “slower pace than we’ve seen in the previous two years.”

“High grading is a partial explanation behind these increases," according to Peters. He continued to say that drilling and completion have also slowed down in comparison with 2015, "though much less than we’ve seen elsewhere.”

While the Permian Basin continues to gain traction from firms on a national level and abroad, the relief can’t come soon enough for places like Midland, TX. The city has been hit hard over the years during the downturn. The Midland Development Corporation (MDC) painted a concerning picture of the local economy in November’s Monthly Economic Report, which showed the Texas Permian Basin Petroleum Index saw its first increase in 21 months in August, but that a subsequent increase did not follow in September due to a variety of ongoing challenges in the market.

"The number of drilling permits issued remains near its low point in this cycle, well completions are still in the tank and the industry continues to lose jobs. Though the rate of job loss from month-to-month has slowed considerably,” the report says.

The rush to grab land is one factor that shows that the Permian is recovering at a faster rate than other production regions in the U.S. This was recently evidenced by Apache's quiet acquisition of 307,000 contiguous net acres in the basin. But the report still notes that the rig count declined by 75 percent and pointed out a 70 percent drop in drilling permits amid companies shedding thousands of jobs in the Midland-Odessa region.

enter image description hereSource: The Midland Development Corporation

“Until these things begin to occur – and indeed when the Texas Permian Basin Petroleum Index reverses course for good and begins to increase – the regional oil and gas economy will not be providing sufficient stimulus to return the region to general economic growth,” the MDC's report stated. "While this may not be far off, it has not yet occurred, and the watch continues for the ultimate trough and origins of recovery in oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin.”

However, a few weeks earlier in October, Mella McEwen of the Midland Reporter-Telegram said that there was cautious optimism abound at the Permian Basin International Oil Show. In some areas, activity levels in the Permian were found to be “the same as when oil prices were $100 a barrel,” Alexandre Andlauer, head of the oil and gas sector of AlphaValue, told McEwen.

“The number of fracturing crews at work has risen from 30 at the low point to 40 currently, still down sharply from 100 crews at the high point,” McEwen wrote. “The stronger companies are hiring again and their crews are working 15-hour days. If prices stabilize at $55 a barrel next year, that number could rise to 50 crews and could challenge any potential OPEC output cuts."