TOUGH TIMES: Douglas Randall, an oilfield truck driver, stands near his semi-truck parked at a gas station in Houma, La., awaiting his next job. He is paid per load and works for oil companies, but he says work has dropped off by half due to the low price of oil and a reduction in drilling
HOUMA, La. — It might sound strange, but the penny-pinching folks in Louisiana’s Oil Patch can’t wait for the price of gasoline to go back up.
Cheap gas at the pump — though a welcome cash infusion for millions of American households — is a way of saying “recession” in south Louisiana, where oil wells are as common as shrimp nets and alligators.
Since 2014, Louisiana has lost about 12,000 oil and gas jobs as prices have declined, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Nationwide, about 100,000 jobs related to the oil and gas industry have been lost since January of 2015, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Many are left wondering when prices will rise again.
“Yesterday, I paid $1.87 for gas,” Patti Lafont said, shaking her head while waiting on tables at a restaurant in Houma, deep in the Oil Patch. “I would rather pay any day $3.87 per gallon because, over here, that’s what we live on: fishing and the oilfield.”
Houma is a city of 34,000 people in the steamy Cajun swamps southwest of New Orleans. It’s transformed itself from the sleepy farming and fishing town it was in the ’50s into a bustling hub serving the needs of oil drillers in the field, whether extracting oil on land or far out in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now — as is happening in other oil-dependent states such as Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska — Louisiana is being clobbered by an unexpected worldwide oversupply of crude oil — a glut that has wreaked havoc on those economies.
Among factors making oil so cheap: a slowing Chinese economy, Saudi Arabia’s decision to not reduce oil production and, more recently, the lifting of the embargo on Iran’s oil. Adding to the over-supply are advances in drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing. And then there’s the growth in wind, solar and natural gas.
A barrel of Brent crude oil closed at $43.10 Friday. So far, cheap gas is considered to be helping the U.S. economy more than it’s hurting.
Not here, though.
Oil-producing Louisiana, where drilling jobs are vital, has been crippled as it no longer makes sense to drill.
Douglas Randall — a fisherman-turned-oilfield truck driver — stood beside his long-idle semi-truck at a gas station awaiting his next job. He’s paid per load and works for oil companies.
“Slow. That’s the only way to describe it,” said Randall, 60. “It’s off by half at least, or more. How am I making it? Barely.”