Congressional visitors talk industry, workforce

05 13, 2014 by Daily Comet

A highway elevated over dying wetlands and a better prepared workforce were the top priorities of local government and energy industry leaders who met Tuesday with members of Congress in south Lafourche.

The half-hour conversation was part of the annual energy tour hosted by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, in which visiting members of Congress tour an offshore installation and get to see a little of the area that supports it onshore.

Among the four visiting Republicans was a one-time presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who honored the energy production industry by calling it the “epitome of American ingenuity.

“One of the great gifts God has given to the United States is its natural resources that are located in this country,” Bachmann said. “It is oil, it is gas, it is coal. We have all of the above. All we need to do is legalize it. We’ve seen the industry handle the exploitation of the resource very responsibly and seriously.”

Other visiting members of Congress — Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. — hailed what they’d seen on the tour as an example of how energy can be produced in places like the Atlantic seaboard where the industry has longed to turn the bit but has been slowed by federal and local governments.

“We can go to South Carolina and everywhere to talk about how well we do balance energy production with environmental stewardship, but coming here and seeing it first hand is amazing,” said Lori LeBlanc, director of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association’s offshore committee. “Understand that 87 percent of our nation’s waters are off limits to oil and gas development, and we can take the lessons learned and all that we have learned here and take it to other places in the country.”

A primer on how the growing industry is having trouble finding enough trained workers topped the conversation after Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet bragged about Houma-Thibodaux’s unemployment rate being among lowest in the nation.

Forbes magazine ranked the Houma region 178th out of 184 cities in the country in terms of educational attainment last year, behind every other metropolitan area in the state except Alexandria

Nicholls State University President Bruce Murphy told the group the current effort is knowing the exact needs of industry so programs can be developed around them.

An example of that is the university’s maritime management concentration within its business school, which is both supported and augmented by the local ship industry to meet its need for managers as the old guard retires, said South Central Industrial Association Executive Director Jane Arnette.

Extending the elevated La. 1 bridge eight miles north from Leeville into the protection of the south Lafourche levee system to give the oil industry a path uninterrupted by the Gulf’s ever-encroaching waters was also listed as a top local priority.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” said Greater Lafourche Port Commission Director Chett Chiasson. “Up to $10 billion of impact annually to the federal treasury. We need $320 million. That is not that much to ask. Then we can get the access very easily, and it’s not just the everyday access. It’s access post-storm. It is hurricane evacuation. It is coming back in to get production back online.”

A mixture of local, state and federal money has built the current $370 million span from Leeville to Fourchon.

“I’m really impressed with your ability to hold off the tides.” Sanford said. “We flew into this airport a moment ago and it just freaked me out to see one foot” above sea level.

But beyond talk of oil and gas royalty schedules, there was no discussion of a federal contribution to the area’s $12 billion dream of a robust Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system or to help pay for the state’s largely unfunded $50 billion plan to slow coastal erosion.