St. Mary finds an advocate in Atchafalaya API chapter

Russell Bruce
September 22, 2009
Zenobia Barrow
September 24, 2009
Russell Bruce
September 22, 2009
Zenobia Barrow
September 24, 2009

Bill New, chairman of oilfield services provider New Industries, started his business 23 years ago, when the signs and the bumper stickers were all over Morgan City saying, “Would the last person to leave, please turn the lights out!”

Now, he thinks if the uncertainties on Capitol Hill don’t clear up soon, the area could be in almost the same trouble.

“The whole industry seems to have a target on its back. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen,” he said. “Oil Companies hate uncertainty. When they’re uncertain about what’s going to be coming down regulation wise, or tax policy wise, they’re reluctant to invest, and if they don’t invest, all of us are going to suffer.”

He said President BarackObama has made no secret that he opposes many issues New favors.

“Frankly, he scares the hell out of me,” New said. “The oil industry seems to be high on his hit list. And I think his indecisions are one of the reasons why this industry is in such a funk. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. If taxes are going up, and you know how much they’re going up, then you can plan for that. You may do things differently, but at least you can plan for it. But as long as there is uncertainty, people are afraid to invest their money.”

With 100 employees on its payroll, New Industries supplies fabrication services to the offshore oil, gas and marine industries. The company’s goal is not to be everything to everyone. New Industries focuses on large diameter, shop-fabricated pressure vessels, including dry bulk mud tanks for new offshore supply vessels, deepwater subsea equipment and specialty fabrication projects.

New is also a port commissioner with the Port of Morgan City, and is the new chairman of the Atchafalaya Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, which meets in Morgan City.

“The news on the economy is not good,” he said. “I was just at a function in Lafayette with some investment bankers, and these guys were making their prognostications about where they think the industry is going. A lot of it hinges on the price of natural gas…I think the price is going to be rotten in the fourth quarter. It’s going to be ugly.”

Although the outlook is bleak, New said his business isn’t typical. “We started the year with a big backlog of work, so we’ve been busy all year long. We’ve been fortunate. I haven’t had a layoff in 15 years. I know a lot of other people can’t say that. It’s tough.”

New believes Morgan City won’t do significantly better or worse than anyone else.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here is that there isn’t a lot of drilling support services here anymore – a lot of it has moved to Fourchon,” he said. “Shallow water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is just terrible right now. Inland water and land drilling counts are way down. Business is bad.”

New said deep water drilling is where the action is, mentioning Cameron in Bayou Vista as one of the parish’s oil-related corporations that are producing.

But he credits Oceaneering and one of its vice presidents, Berwick resident Jerry Gauthier, for being the biggest catalyst for the Morgan City economy since the city built its hospital. “These guys are a real positive for this community. Twenty plus million (dollars) to locate their regional headquarters here, and they really didn’t have to do that.”

Founded in 1964, Oceaneering has grown from an air and mixed gas diving business in the Gulf of Mexico to a diversified, advanced applied technology organization operating around the world. For the quarter ending June 30, Oceaneering earned net income of $48.1 million on revenue of $451 million, or $0.80 per share.

As a port commissioner, New said the relocation of Intermoor to Morgan City will be a big plus for the area.

Intermoor of Amelia will remain in St. Mary Parish but move to Morgan City with 212 high-value jobs and a future commitment to increasing its local workforce to 500 jobs over the next five years. The company designs, supplies and deploys technically advanced mooring systems and provides rig-move and back-of-the-boat installation services worldwide.

Intermoor will open their new headquarters, 101 Youngswood Road in Morgan City next month.

At the Port of Morgan City however, there are struggles, and one is what New says is almost a constant battle with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The port is always attempting to keep the water level in the river channel dredged. This has hindered Morgan City in growing the port economically.

The major problem with the river channel stems from high levels of sediment accompanying the Atchafalaya River current, as it flows through Morgan City and Berwick, but more so as the river turns below Morgan City in a circle that is known as Horseshoe Bend.

The area of Horseshoe Bend is costing the corps more dollars in dredging costs, because it constantly needs to be dredged to be used for navigation, due to higher levels of sediment.

Meanwhile, as the river is making the circle around Horseshoe Bend, it is also forcing itself to move straight downward, in an area that is known as Crewboat Cut. The cut is located on the other side of a dredge spoil, a land mass that the corps has built while dredging Horseshoe Bend.

New said that for the past 25 years, Morgan City port commissioners have been arguing with the corps about halting dredging in Horseshoe Bend. Making Crewboat Cut the navigation route would be easier, particularly since the river seemed like it was forcing its way in that direction.

“Anyway, about a year ago someone with the corps finally listened and said, ‘Well, maybe ya’ll have a great idea’ and gave it approval, or at least we thought,” New said.

This week, the corps told port commissioners that the Morgan City Port Commission will have to pay $3 million up front before any work can begin, a deposit they said will save the corps $9 million annually in dredging costs. “Now tell me what kind of logic that makes,” New said. “The project isn’t dead, but it is not as imminent as we thought it was going to be.”

On another topic, New said he is just beginning his job as chairman of the Atchafalaya Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, a group that has been awarding large scholarships to graduating high school seniors in St. Mary Parish, in addition to other civic activities. New said the Atchafalaya Chapter was also holding a golf tournament to raise money for its scholarships.

According to the Web site, American Petroleum Institute chapters promote fellowship and professional development of their members through the exchange of operational experience, operations-oriented meeting programs, and a variety of educational, industry service and community service projects.

Membership is open to anyone engaged in the petroleum or an allied industry. Many chapters also offer associate memberships, too.