Will the last person out of Louisiana please turn off the lights?

For the last six months the global oil market has taken a dizzyingly sharp plunge in search of a price bottom that no one is sure we have found yet. Across the county and even across the globe tens of thousands of workers, people much like myself, held their collective breath. Around galley tables talk shifted from home improvements and new trucks to OPEC, national energy policy and oil price forecasting. Like watching a train about to hit a bus stuck on the tracks, everyone knew what was coming and just didn’t want to believe it would happen. “Surely the OPEC nations can’t keep boosting production, they must be hurting as well.” Said many overnight experts on global energy trading. Even I was cautiously optimistic about things, saying more than once that our market, the Gulf of Mexico was one of the most attractive places in the world for deep-water drilling.
After all the G.O.M. was the most politically stable oil rich region in the world! Located next to one of the largest energy markets in the world and a plethora of refineries and ports. Sure things would slow down; we would take some pay cuts, but lay offs? Then the prices of oil went lower, and again lower. Every day the news was worse and memories of the slump of the late 80’s started to surface. For many in the oil business this isn’t their first down turn, and for many it won’t be the last. Those who had been around long enough were often smart enough to be in a position financially to weather the storm. However for many of the younger guys in my age group this been a bucket of cold water to the face. For some followed with a punch to the throat.
What really surprised me is how quickly things happened. It seemed like in a matter of hitches everything went from being a little slow to people being sent home. Before I knew it two boats I had been on were warm stacked, and I have no doubt a few of them will be cold iron before long. Very suddenly the downturn was very real, and no longer just “too bad for those guys at XYZ offshore”
As I write this all of the major OSV companies are stacking boats, and sending people home for lack of work. 401k matches are being suspended, travel pay and safety bonuses eliminated, and pay is often being “restructured” if not out right cut. I have friends, good friends, who have been at home with no work and not a word of hope from their office for weeks now.
When you go back and really look at things it should be no surprise how quickly costs were slashed and driven down. The last decade, with the exception of the Deepwater Horizon incident moratorium, have been a bit of a golden time for offshore drilling contractors in the G.O.M. One large discovery after another and the expand at any cost necessary attitude lead to nearly unchecked spending on exploration and production projects. Day rates for new generation drill ships and rigs soared towards nearly a million dollars a day, and nearly a dozen multi billion dollar deepwater projects in the G.O.M. alone were undertaken.
While this exploration and expansion of reserves is necessary for any major oil company to stay soluble, there is a variable that for most cannot be ignored, the shareholders. As time went on and budgets spiraled upward shareholders voices on the subject went from a muted rumble to an outright roar. Dividends had suffered for far too long in the name of expansion and at many publicly owned oil and oil services companies cost control was well on the boards mind before the plunge of oil.
When you add all of this together, the oversupply due to the fracking boom, OPEC continuing to boost production, oil major shareholders screaming for higher dividends, it all comes together to put a tremendous hurting on the men and women at the operational level of the oilfield. All of the roughnecks, the field engineers, the support staffs, the boat crews. They need less of us and are going to pay those of us left less.
For me this meant it was time for a change that had been in all likely hood coming soon anyway. I got up the courage to step to the door, jump, and look back at the plane as I pulled the ripcord on one of my maritime parachutes. After a couple weeks at home it was off to new adventures in the part of the industry I’ve always wanted to be in; tugboats in New York Harbor. It’s been several weeks of 18 hour days learning the harbor and sharpening my tug boating skill set on larger equipment at a much busier pace. There will of course be more on this to come in the following weeks and months!
In southern Louisiana and indeed the whole gulf coast the train still hasn’t quite hit that bus stuck on the tracks, but in the coming months and even the next year or two the impact will be felt. As contracts and projects that had already begun before oil’s sudden plunge wrap up, there will be much less work to follow, and it will all be at lower day rates. One captain I’ve worked with said he is going to start printing up new versions of the bumper stickers you saw all over the oil patch in the mid to early 80’s. One said “Survive 85’!”, his plan was to cross out the 85’ and write 15’. The other may need no modification and asks, “Will the last person out of Louisiana please turn off the lights”

Fare well and adieu  You Fourchon dispatchers, Fare well and adieu To you dispatchers of Fourchon, For I've seen orders To sail for New York Harbor, And so in a short while I'll never see you again.....

Fare well and adieu
You Fourchon dispatchers,
Fare well and adieu
To you dispatchers of Fourchon,
For I’ve seen orders
To sail for New York Harbor,
And so in a short while
I’ll never see you again…..

About newenglandwaterman

1600 Master Near Coastal, Master of Towing Vessels, and a whole binder full of other pieces of paper. You can find me at the controls, hooked up and hard over, when I'm not at home playing with the dogs
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2 Responses to Will the last person out of Louisiana please turn off the lights?

  1. Texaco says:

    A tentative congratulations. I was recently on a tanker pulling into Tampa and the pilot was all about how for years he had been telling 3/m’s and other maritime aspirants to get into tugs to develop great boat handling skills and it was just more fun. The 3/m on watch was all smiles because he was leaving the company to do what you are now. Best of luck.

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