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Family firm still struggling, 18 months after Gulf oil spill

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Leslie Bertucci, co-owner of R&D Industries in Harvey, stands in front of the company’s compartmentalized storage tank, designed by her husband and co-owner Dan Ness.

Earlier this month, a flatbed truck lumbered slowly out of the gravel parking lot at R&D Enterprises in Harvey, bearing a huge red-and-yellow storage tank bound for an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Watching it leave, co-owner Leslie Bertucci raised her camera phone and snapped a couple of pictures of a cherished sight in the last few months: a paying customer.

For R&D, this was rain after a drought, a breath of oxygen flowing into a small oilfield supply company that has been gasping for air. The company, which rents modular storage containers and racks to offshore rigs, has managed to stay in business since the Deepwater Horizon exploded last year and radically reshaped deepwater drilling in the Gulf.

But it’s been grueling.

R&D survived a four-month deepwater drilling moratorium that ended in October. Since then, it has been struggling to navigate the re-made regulatory environment that has settled over the Gulf, leaving drilling activity far short of where it was when Deepwater Horizon blew, killing 11 workers.

Bertucci and her husband, Dan Ness, founded R&D 11 years ago in their house in Metairie to manufacture and rent specialized equipment to deepwater drillers. When the moratorium clanged down and the Gulf went quiet, Bertucci said revenue plunged 80 percent almost overnight.

The company survived, in part, by enforcing furious economies, Bertucci said.

The couple slashed their own salaries by 75 percent. Months later they eliminated them entirely, and then began shoveling personal savings into company operations.

Bertucci said they slashed every discretionary nickel, ended their practice of cookouts or gifts for customers, cut off all charitable contributions.

Remarkably, over the course of 18 months, R&D has held on to its small workforce of a dozen or so employees.

“We didn’t lay off anybody but ourselves,” she said.

‘Not a penny

Meanwhile, Bertucci learned that R&D didn’t qualify for compensation from a $20 billion fund that BP established shortly after the spill.

Although the company had contracts in hand, it received no compensation for lost revenue, or for the estimated $144,000 in equipment that went to the bottom of the Gulf with the Deepwater Horizon.

“We haven’t received a penny. Not a penny,” she said.

However, since the spring, business has inched back up, “but it’s excruciating how slow it is.”

“I didn’t think a year and a half ago I’d be excited to have the numbers I have today,” she said. “They’re not great. But they’re creeping back up slowly.”

Bertucci said she and Ness are back on the payroll, but business is still down more than a third of what it was before the oil spill. The day of the BP disaster, Bertucci said her company had equipment on 23 deepwater rigs; today they’re on 12.

If her projections work out, Bertucci expects that next summer the business will be where it was in June of 2010.

Depressed deepwater drilling

On the day BP’s rig blew, 33 deepwater rigs were operating in the Gulf.

Today there are about 34, but only about half are drilling, said Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute. The rest are awaiting permits.

Just last week, a joint report by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement found that BP, Halliburton, its drilling contractor and Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon, took disastrous shortcuts that led to the blowout of the 18,000-foot Macondo well, killing 11 crew members and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Since the relaxation of a moratorium after the spill, Gulf deepwater drillers have been operating in a new environment in which regulators have ordered increased oversight at every stage of oil and gas development, and invited more government agencies to consult and comment on drilling permit applications, Smith said.

The result is that permit applications are significantly backlogged and deepwater drilling remains depressed.

Pleading their cases

In the months since the spill, Bertucci has become a highly visible spokesperson for thousands of small secondary businesses that support — and are supported by — the multi-billion-dollar corporate behemoths in the oil and gas industry.

Bertucci has pleaded the case of small businesses in Washington and before the president’s National Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans. She is the subject of a short pro-business video by the Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research.

Her message is clear: although the blowout was a disaster, the moratorium was an overreaction, and the post-moratorium regulatory environment has tilted the balance of oversight versus production too far in favor of oversight.

During the slowdown, Bertucci and Ness began looking to other markets for business. In the last few months, they have sought an international technical certification for their tanks and racks so they can bid on deepwater jobs in other regions — especially Brazil, which appears to be the preeminent new deepwater market.

During the darkest days of the moratorium, Bertucci frequently said the company needed to keep a full workforce on hand for the day the moratorium was lifted, for on that day, she believed, R&D would be swept off its feet with customers stampeding back into the Gulf.

It hasn’t worked out that way at all.

“It turned out to be sort of a joke. A joke on us,” she said.

“It was a very cruel joke.”

Bruce Nolan can be reached at bnolan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3344.

Original Article

Offshore Vessel Operators Suffer As Gulf Oil Output Sags

Susan Buchanan
Sunday, September 11, 2011

File Marine Management, LLC managing member Cliffe Laborde (left), with Peter Laborde

Marine Management, LLC managing member Cliffe Laborde (left), with Peter Laborde

As seen in the August edition of MarineNews, Susan Buchanan updates readers on the GOM oil production situation.

BP’s gushing well was capped more than a year ago but life is hardly back to normal in the U.S. Gulf–where rigs and vessels remain underutilized. At least ten rigs have moved overseas since last summer. Gulf oil production is below pre-spill levels and won’t recover anytime soon, analysts say. Issuance of drilling permits picked up this spring as operators agreed to use oil-containment systems but permitting lags earlier rates.

Paul Candies, president and CEO of Otto Candies, LLC, in Des Allemands, La., said offshore activity has increased recently, and “we expect to see a slow trend toward more drilling “ But the marine industry shouldn’t get lulled into a false sense of security. “We need to continue to push for more permitting of rigs and simplification of that process,” he said. Candies gave a positive report about his company, saying “all of our platform supply vessels are committed at present for extended periods. We have three inspection, maintenance and repair vessels on long-term commitments, and should have a fourth IMR vessel committed by year end.” Otto Candies is a marine transportation and offshore services company.

At Laborde Marine Management, LLC, in New Orleans, managing member Cliffe Laborde said “I think the worst is over, but we’re a long way from getting back to where we were shortly before the Macondo spill.” Laborde Marine, with operations in Morgan City, La., services the deep and shallow water drilling industry.

  • Gulf Assets Move Overseas

Laborde provided some recent history, and explained how promising times in the Gulf had turned sour. “In early 2010, as the economy emerged from a two-year recession, the Gulf energy industry was beginning to bloom,” he said. “Utilization rates for deepwater support vessels were high, and charter rates were rising again. The outlook was very good, but then came the spill and the market has languished since.”

Laborde continued, saying “many deepwater vessels and rigs have moved out of the GOM to foreign areas, and many vessels and rigs that stayed in the Gulf are idle now, waiting on BOEMRE to issue new permits.” The granting of new drill permits has been “alarmingly anemic,” he added.

Rigs are underutilized in the Gulf this summer. The fleet utilization rate for all 52, offshore Gulf platforms was 40.4% on July 22, less than half the worldwide usage rate for platforms, according to ODS-Petrodata, Inc. Utilization of mobile rigs in the Gulf stood at 53.7% on July 22.

Meanwhile, other drilling regions in the world are closer to full capacity. In Europe and the Mediterranean, 96.3% of all platform rigs and 87.7% of mobile rigs were in use in late July. Oil and marine companies can’t afford to keep assets in waters where they’re not needed. Since the start of the deepwater moratorium in May 2010, at least ten rigs have left the Gulf of Mexico, and headed to Angola, Egypt, Congo, Nigeria, French Guiana, Liberia, Brazil and Vietnam. One of those rigs returned to the Gulf in March, however, and another is slated to come back this fall.

  • Shallow Water Activity Could Slow Further At Late Year

In Morgan City, La., Dave Barousse, business development director at Fleet Operators, Inc., said “in the shelf market, or non-deep water at depths of 1,000 feet and less, we have not seen an increase in business because of the end of the moratorium. However, business has been steady as a result of the normal construction and maintenance work offshore that generally takes place during the summer months.” But, he said, activity is considerably slower than before the deepwater moratorium.” Fleet Operators owns and charters supply vessels for the offshore oil and gas industry. And Barousse said “we’re preparing for things to slow down tremendously once winter weather is upon us. The outlook is not very positive at the moment, and will be even worse by the end of the year.”

  • Gulf Oil Output Projected To Decline This Year and Next

Crude oil production from the federal Gulf of Mexico is expected to shrink from 1.64 million barrels per day in 2010 to 1.49 million bpd this year and 1.38 million bpd in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration‘s short-term energy outlook, released in July. Gulf output should drop by 150,000 barrels a day this year and another 110,000 bpd in 2012.

The EIA said this year’s decline stems from lower production in existing fields, last year’s drilling moratorium and a subsequent delay in issuing new drilling permits. Even before the BP spill and the drilling ban, the EIA expected Gulf oil output to fall this year.

  • Issuance of Drilling Permits Lags Pre-Moratorium Pace

Jim Adams, president and chief executive of Offshore Marine Service Association, an industry group in Harahan, La., said the Administration’s approval rate for exploration and development plans is down 85% from pre-moratorium levels, and the number of drilling permits covered by exploration and development plans is off nearly 65%. He cited a study called “Restarting the Engine–Securing American Jobs, Investment and Energy Security,” released by IHS CERA and IHS Global Insight in late July.

Adams said “no industry can operate with that kind of shutdown.” He said the Obama Administration is sending rigs, boats and jobs overseas in an indefensible policy. OMSA represents more than 250 member companies, including about 100 firms that own and operate marine-service vessels. “The offshore marine industry remains in a state of crisis, almost as if the drilling moratorium was never lifted, and the only relief from excess capacity is overseas opportunities,” Adams said. “The Administration has strangled offshore drilling, and until that changes, we can’t look for better times in the marine industry.”

Adams said Washington has choked the Gulf shallow sector though it never had any significant spills. “There’s no reason that shallow water permits shouldn’t be 100% of what they were in the spring of last year, but we’re not even close,” he said. “The Administration isn’t interested in shallow-water or deepwater exploration.”
OMSA sent a letter to President Obama in February complaining about suspended offshore drilling and its impact on marine industry jobs. “We never heard back from the Administration and that’s because they know we’re right,” Adams said. According to OMSA, more than 50,000 wells have been safely drilled in the Gulf of Mexico over the past fifty years.

  • Problems with Rig Permit Numbers

Adams said “BOEMRE numbers on Gulf drilling permits are completely misleading. We need to know how many wells are brand new that will lead to exploration and how many wells are being re-permitted from last year.” Someone looking at BOEMRE’s website might think that new wells are keeping pace with pre-moratorium levels, but they aren’t, he said. He added that oil and marine industries need to be able to compare how many exploratory wells are permitted. “It takes an average seven permits for a well to start producing,” he noted. In March, Senator David Vitter (R-La.) also sent a letter to U.S/ Interior Dept. Secretary Ken Salazar and BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich, complaining about inaccurate, federal information on Gulf drilling permits.

In their July study, IHS CERA and IHS Global Insight said an analysis of BOEMRE data provided several findings. “The current pace of plan and permit approvals is significantly below historical norms and indicates that the process is not working smoothly,” researchers said. And “the growing backlog of plans awaiting approval indicates that the industry remains ready to invest as quickly as it is permitted to do so.”

  • Rigs and Vessels Adopt Oil Containment Systems

One way to get your vessel hired in the Gulf is to outfit it with spill-response equipment. After BP’s accident, BOEMRE issued new regulations requiring that rig operators be able to respond to subsea leaks and surface spills. In late July of this year, two Hornbeck Offshore Services vessels were added to the fleet of ships that can respond to a Gulf accident, the Marine Spill Response Corp. said. MSRC is a non-profit company that was established in 1990. Hornbeck’s HOS Centerline and HOS Strongline are vessels with oil-skimming systems, ocean boom, support boats and navigational systems that can support skimming at night and in stormy weather.

Hornbeck, based in Covington, La., in late May posted its first quarterly loss in over six years, but said it was diversifying by moving vessels into foreign markets. This summer, BOEMRE director Bromwich said his agency will issue more safety measures for Gulf rigs soon. At the fifth, annual World National Oil Companies Congress in the U.K. in late June, he said “offshore drilling in the U.S. and around the world will never be the same as it was a year ago. Changes that we have put in place will endure because they were urgent, necessary and appropriate.” More regulations will be issued, but not at the frantic pace of the past year, he said.

  • Report Delayed On Who’s To Blame for Spill

In late July, a U.S. team examining the causes of the BP spill delayed the release of a final report as it continued weighing evidence. BOEMRE and the U.S. Coast Guard were expected to issue results of a joint investigation on July 27 but said they needed more time. The Gulf marine industry wants additional rigs to start drilling soon. Laborde said “the oil companies, the rig operators and the energy-service companies are all anxious and ready to get back to work. This would create jobs, improve the economy, increase government revenues through royalty income and taxes, and enhance our national security by lessening dependence on foreign oil.” Where the Gulf oil and marine industries go from here is up to decision makers in Washington, he said.

Original Article

Obama’s Anti-Energy Policies Are Bankrupting America

Published on May 5, 2011 by HeritageFoundation

Randall Stilley has witnessed firsthand the Obama administration‘s job-killing agenda. As the president and chief executive of Seahawk Drilling, he had to lay off 632 employees before filing for bankruptcy — a direct result of President Obama’s anti-energy policies.

“As an American,” he told us, “you never want to look at your own government and say they’re hurting you personally, they’re hurting your business and they’re doing it in a way that’s irresponsible. I’m not very proud of our government right now and the way they handled this.”

Randall Stilley has witnessed firsthand the Obama administration’s job-killing agenda. As the president and chief executive of Seahawk Drilling, he had to lay off 632 employees before filing for bankruptcy — a direct result of President Barack Obama’s anti-energy policies.

Stilley’s company owned and operated 20 shallow-water rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The lack of energy production — a consequence of Obama’s drilling moratorium and subsequent “permitorium” — led to Seahawk’s demise. Now he’s speaking out, sharing Seahawk’s story in a new video from Heritage and the Institute for Energy Research. (Click to watch.)

It’s an unfortunate example of how policies in Washington are harming American jobs and also squelching energy production at a time when consumers are paying $4-per-gallon for gasoline.

Fortunately, not everyone in the nation’s capital is content with higher prices and fewer jobs. Today the U.S. House considers the first of several bills that directly addresses energy and jobs. Lawmakers will vote today on legislation that requires the Obama administration to conduct oil and natural gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters offshore Virginia.

It’s a welcome change from the anti-drilling policies first imposed by the Obama administration one year ago. On May 6, 2010, the first moratorium on Gulf drilling took effect, followed by a longer ban that lasted until October. But even after it was lifted, few deepwater permits have been issued.

The long-term implications are disastrous for America. That prompted House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) to pursue a remedy through legislation. Today’s vote would ensure that companies continue energy development by requiring lease sales. Two other bills would speed up the permitting process and craft a long-term plan for offshore lease sales.

“What we’re proposing is to lower gas prices, create American jobs, which ironically will help drive up government revenues, and ultimately, in the wake of all the turmoil we’ve seen in the world, create an environment in which we are energy independent or on a path to energy independence,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) explained yesterday.

Even without the president’s signature, the legislation has already had a positive impact. After it passed in committee, the Obama administration promised to hold one lease sale in 2011. (Ever since 1958, there has been at least one lease sale every year.)

But while one lease sale is better than none, Hastings isn’t satisfied. He wants the Obama administration to hold four lease sales before June 2012  – including one off the coast of Virginia.

Aside from creating new jobs and discovering new sources of energy, the lease sales contribute a substantial sum of revenue for the federal treasury. In 2008, the offshore industry paid $9.4 billion for bids on new leases. Last year, that figure dropped to $979 million in lease bids.

The drop in revenue is a reflection of the Obama administration’s anti-energy policies. And lease sales are only part of the equation. According to the government’s own Energy Information Administration, production in the Gulf of Mexico will drop by 190,000 barrels per day. That means less money from royalty payments on offshore rigs as well.

Faced with mounting criticism, the Obama administration has defended its policies as a safety precaution following last year’s oil spill. But one year later, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is issuing drilling permits at such a slow pace that it’s hard to swallow the explanation.

At the same time, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are seeking new ways to penalize energy businesses. As Curtis Dubay and Nick Loris write on The Foundry, a proposal from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) would significantly increase taxes paid by U.S. oil and gas companies competing abroad — exactly the wrong approach with gas prices on the rise.

Meanwhile, job creators like Leslie Bertucci and Randall Stilley continue to bear the brunt of the Obama administration’s misguided policies. Bertucci, who told us last month about her company’s struggle to survive, has dipped into personal savings to avoid layoffs.

Stilley didn’t have that option at Seahawk. And he’s not optimistic about what the future holds under this administration.

“As an American,” he told us, “you never want to look at your own government and say they’re hurting you personally, they’re hurting your business and they’re doing it in a way that’s irresponsible. I’m not very proud of our government right now and the way they handled this.”

Original Article

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