Oil & Gas Woes: State of industry tops local business stories in 2015

Layoffs and downsizing: The global free-fall in oil prices, while reducing pain at the pump for consumers, is taking its toll on the local economy. Local layoffs at Edison Chouest Offshore and at many small businesses dependent on a robust oilfield, along with global layoffs by companies such as Halliburton, Baker-Hughes and Chevron, are making for a dire 2016 in the Bayou Region. The silver lining in this ever-darkening cloud is that deep-water development continues. How much the decision by Congress to end the export ban on U.S. oil will affect the local picture remains to be seen, although local business voices say it could well be a year before any detectable change related to the welcome lifting of the ban might be locally felt. Other factors – at least in the case of Chouest – include the decision by Shell oil to abandon its Alaska program. That resulted in the canceling of vessels being built at ECO’s LAShip operation in Houma. Chouest’s service fleet is also experiencing problems, the company’s manager, Roger White, confirmed. Baton Rouge economist Loren Scott is among industry observers who say there is little to fear in the long run, and that oil – and the region – will bounce back. “Today, we’re headed toward 60 rigs actively drilling in deep water,” Scott said. “People are coming back to the gulf. And the good news is we’ve had some ‘elephant’ finds.”

2. The ice cream scoop: Recalls of Blue Bell ice cream had a dire effect on a Houma family spot. Scarlet Scoop, the iconic ice cream parlor on Barrow Street, shut its doors in June. Owner Bryan Nelson said he would not substitute his favorite brand, and will re-open when it is fully available for his clientele. If he can’t sell Blue Bell he will sell nothing at all. “We will not sell a cheaper brand of ice cream just to stay open,” said Nelson, who has been greeted during stops at his closed shop by numerous post-its on the door from customers pledging their loyalty and their sorrow at the temporary closure of the business. The ice cream company, meanwhile, has begun to re-distribute a limited product line in Louisiana and a re-opening of Scarlet Scoop is imminent.

3. Lavis sold: Another Barrow Street business, Lavis Conoco, was sold to new owners late in 2015, who say they intend to keep the fully self-service filling station and repair shop operating in the manner it has for the past 67 years. Lavis Bourg, Sr. originally started in the gas station business in 1957 when he opened the ’63 Texaco that was located on Barrow Street next to where New York Bagel Café & Deli is now. Then, in the early ‘60s, Lavis Bourg, Sr. moved from that location to a gas station on Main Street across from where Terrebonne General Medical Center is now. The Lavis Conoco still washes windshields, checks oil and performs other services routinely during fill-ups, and has a liberal policy regarding accommodation of customers in emergency repair situations.

4. Shrimpers in a stew: A combination of devastatingly low dockside prices followed by shrinking catches kept local shrimpers on edge during the 2015 brown and white shrimp harvests. The fishermen and processors said at year’s end that they are doing what they have always done in hard times, pray and hope for better hauls and prices next year. The harvesters and dock owners did get something to cheer about toward year’s end. Rep. Charles Boustany’s PROTECT Act passed Congress fairly unscathed and is awaiting presidential signature. Among the provisions of the act are creation of a dedicated unit within U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to prevent and investigate trade evasion, a requirement that the U.S. Department of Commerce establish procedures to ensure maximum cooperation and communication in order to quickly, efficiently, and accurately investigate allegations of trade evasion, and a requirement that Customs report annually to Congress on its effort to combat evasion.

5. Five years after disaster, BP settlements continue: A $6.8 billion settlement with Gulf states including Louisiana was the big news this year in regard to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. But even as local entities like school boards and fire districts make plans for spending their windfalls, some local businesses have still not been compensated for their spill-related claims. A company spokesman, Jason Ryan, has maintained that the company is doing all it can to meet its responsibilities due to the spill.

“In the days immediately after the accident, BP alone among those involved stepped up, acknowledged our role, and committed to help restore the Gulf’s environment and economy,” Ryan said. “We have been working hard ever since to fulfill that commitment. •

State of IndustryFILE | THE TIMES