3 years removed from spill, industry growing

CRIME BLOTTER: Reported offenses in the Tri-parishes
September 25, 2013
Shallow-water drilling fighting for survival
September 25, 2013
CRIME BLOTTER: Reported offenses in the Tri-parishes
September 25, 2013
Shallow-water drilling fighting for survival
September 25, 2013

At approximately 9:45 p.m. April 20, 2010, the oil and gas industry was delivered a proverbial knockout punch when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and subsequently dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, more than three years later, the industry has recovered from the blow and is delivering some haymakers of its own.

Local industry leaders tout that deep-water business in the Gulf of Mexico is booming with no turnaround in sight.

The comeback has been so brisk and strong that leaders don’t even reference the spill when forecasting an outlook for the coming year.

“The oil industry right now in the Gulf of Mexico is strong – really, really strong,” said Chris John, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association president. “The future is very, very bright. There are a lot of indications that these words are true – especially if you look at the kind of investments that have been made in the Gulf going into the future.”

Following the oil spill, the Gulf was shut down completely by the government per President Barack Obama’s controversial drilling moratorium.

But while the government strapped the industry with red tape, leaders tout that business interest never faded.

As soon as the restrictions were lifted, work slowly filtered back into the water. Today, rig counts are similar to and sometimes greater than they were in April 2010.

“We really went through a pretty good period of time there before things got any better – it was really frustrating,” said Don Briggs, Louisiana Oil & Gas Association president. “But the drilling activity has come back. The Gulf of Mexico today remains to be one of the crowned jewels for Louisiana because of the vast resources that exists within it – especially in the deep water.”

A peek at the latest oil field bidding auctions show exactly what Briggs was referencing.

In the latest rounds of bidding among oil conglomerates, John said that spending among big businesses has been competitive and at pre-2010 levels – with billions of dollars being spent to earn the right to control exploration in certain segments of the water.

John also said that a wide range of companies have gotten in on the act and are investing in the Gulf’s future – another factor that he said proves that the industry’s future is on firm footing.

“Looking at those numbers are a really good barometer of where the industry stands,” he said. “And looking at them right now, it’s easy to see that companies are lined up to get themselves in the Gulf of Mexico to do business.”

Locally, the surge in deep-water activity has meant great things for the Tri-parishes.

Deep-water business is booming, which obviously means work is being completed in the Gulf of Mexico. But for that work to be done, the projects must be supplemented with work on land within Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes.

Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said these business opportunities are a major haul for the local economy.

Lafourche and St. Mary parish presidents Charlotte Randolph and Paul Naquin have echoed similar sentiment in the past.

“The industry right now has far exceeded the pre-BP exploration in the Gulf,” Claudet said. “That trend will continue at least in the immediate future, for which we are much thankful.”

The jump has kept the Tri-parish area as one of the nation’s leaders in unemployment. It also has many local businesses looking for workers at every corner – seemingly a rarity in today’s economic climate.

“When projects are announced in the Gulf of Mexico, it has an enormous ripple effect in Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Mary,” John said. “The ripples go all of the way up because those multi-billion dollar projects going on in the water are all being supported on land in your parishes. The activity in the Gulf is growing, and obviously that will mean even more good things for the area.”

The forecast is so bright looking into the future that many are already eyeballing the next generation of workers.

John said his organization has partnered with Nicholls State University, Fletcher Technical Community College and other technical schools across Louisiana to set up programs designed to train workers.

“We’re going to need young men and women here to work,” he said. “The demand for employees isn’t going to shrink. It’s going to just keep increasing.”

Briggs agreed and said workers will remain a priority.

“It’s a high-paying job, yes,” he said. “But it’s a job that requires a person to have the proper training and skill and ability so that the job can be done properly and safely. As things continue to move forward, having the right work force will always be a high priority of the industry.”

Too much work and too few people to fill the jobs available on the market – goodness how things have changed in just 41 months for the Gulf of Mexico.

The people of extreme southeast Louisiana may now exhale together, for it appears the rainstorm is over and the pot of gold at the end of the subsequent rainbow is here.

“I’m not surprised that it came back – not at all,” Briggs said. “I’m surprised that it didn’t come back sooner than it did. But things look good right now, and the future looks very good. I think that we’ll see a lot of bright days ahead.”

“We’ll be busy for a while,” John added. “All you have to do to get excited is look at the signs up and down U.S. Highway 90 for different companies hiring people for different positions. That’s all you need to see to know that the industry is strong today.”

BP oil spill