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Thousands Of Laid-Off Oil Workers Struggle To Start Again

Daniel Autin turned to construction after he lost his job as a slickline operations manager.
Daniel Autin turned to construction after he lost his job as a slickline operations manager.

More than 7,000 oil and gas workers have lost their jobs in Louisiana as the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation and the world.

 Thousands Of Laid-Off Oil Workers Struggle To Start Again

With one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, hovering around 7 percent, laid-off oil workers are struggling to find their footing in new jobs. Oil prices are down because fewer people are flying or commuting, which has driven down production. There were similar downturns in the 1980s and in 2015, and the state has steadily become less reliant on oil and gas.

Daniel Autin worked as a slickline operations manager at TETRA Technologies, where he decommissioned old oil rigs, for many years.

“I thought I had a job for the rest of my life,” he said.

But about six years ago, the layoffs started.

“We had cutbacks and cutbacks and cutbacks and cutbacks … until finally a day came and it was my turn,” he said.

Forced to start all over again, he began filling out job applications. He got a job in construction and worked his way up to a management position, and now he’s able to support his family again. But he took a pay cut.

Autin’s friend Clint Galliano found himself in a similar situation a few months back when the oil industry again took a hit from the global pandemic.

“There's no point in getting upset over something you can't change,” he said.

Galliano turned to the real estate market. Now he sells homes around Houma, wearing a red T-shirt with his name tag upside-down — a conversation starter, he explained.

Clint Galliano said he sees the oil and gas industry as yet another dying way-of-life in coastal Louisiana, where he grew up watching the land disappear and the fishing industry struggle.
Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Clint Galliano said he sees the oil and gas industry as yet another dying way-of-life in coastal Louisiana, where he grew up watching the land disappear and the fishing industry struggle.

Both Galliano and Autin wonder if they could have done something differently or whether this was inevitable.

“But then you look at things from the big picture,” Autin said, “And you realize that you were probably lucky to have your job as long as you did.”

Lori LeBlanc, vice president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, said that despite generous tax incentives and a history of industry-friendly policy, the state needs to do more to protect oil and gas.

“We need to ensure that we can maintain these jobs for many, many years to come and not lose jobs at a time when we're already in an economic downturn,” she said.

Some national experts don’t agree. Noemie Tilghman is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, a global professional services firm where she leads the U.S. Oil, Gas & Chemicals Consulting practice. She said it’s inevitable that markets are changing.

“If you just think it's going to happen like it always has in the past, then you'll be left behind,” she said.

While LSU’s Center for Energy Studies predicts half of Louisiana’s oil and gas jobs will come back, a Deloitte study found that up to 70 percent of overall oil and gas jobs nationally may not come back by the end of 2021. 

Louisiana could be funneling laid-off workers into jobs in solar and wind, using retraining programs and trade schools.

For example, the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) has proposed a framework for a “Gulf South for a Green New Deal” that advocates for the creation of renewable energy job opportunities and investments in new infrastructure. It urges lawmakers to prioritize such opportunities for fenceline communities currently reliant on extractive industry jobs.

Both Galliano and Autin said they’d take a job in renewables, but few exist.

Very little power in the state comes from renewable energy, and industries like wind and solar remain nascent. Just 4 percent of the state’s total energy production comes from renewables such as biomass, hydroelectric and solar, leaving it far behind neighboring states like Georgia and Texas.

Royal Dutch Shell shuttered a major refinery in Convent in November, citing changing consumer demand. More than 1,000 lost their jobs.
Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Royal Dutch Shell shuttered a major refinery in Convent in November, citing changing consumer demand. More than 1,000 lost their jobs.

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Workforce Commission said it offers training and job fairs for laid-off workers but would not say how many oil workers it had helped in the past year or how those services were affected by the pandemic.

“Those who choose to ignore it and just believe the cycle will simply work itself out will be the losers,” Tilghman said.

She added that the winners in a new marketplace dominated by renewables will be the companies — and states — that can diversify.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

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