Oil and Gas

Energy Reigns

Louisiana's congressional delegation and leading energy execs took a break from Mardi Gras festivities for a frank discussion about the industry's challenges.

"Energy-Louisiana Style" was the theme for the Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras this year. When Bill Fenstermaker made the decision to humbly accept the crown and rein over the Mystick Krewe for 2010, he did so with the vision of making the Washington event more than a festive party. King Fenstermaker seized the opportunity to exploit Louisiana's most important economic driver, Louisiana's oil and gas industry, at a time when it is most needed.

In an opening statement, Fenstermaker noted, "Though we Louisianans are known for the energy we put into our playtime, our real history is written by the energy we put into our work. Through the 1900s and now into the 21st century, men and women have rolled the dice time and again, risking all - reputations, money, even their very futures - to explore and extract the bounty beneath our land and waters. Though the timeless image of black gold' gushing from the center of the angled, wood-framed derrick of a well is still etched in our minds - and this year's Mystick Krewe doubloon - the new age of oil and gas exploration has expanded into something far more demanding than even its first wildcatters could have imagined."

Throughout its long and fruitful existence, the oil and gas industry has remained the cornerstone of Louisiana's economy. From the first developments of the early 1900s to the expansion of Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana is known for its extensive and diverse energy history. Exploding onto the scene in 2008, the Haynesville Shale in north Louisiana has served as a major buffer to the pummeling the energy sector endured through 2009. At one point, it provided more than 50 percent of the drilling activity in Louisiana. It is now and will continue to be a major source of natural gas for many years to come and is projected to become the largest producing onshore natural gas find in the U.S.

Thanks to the success of the Haynesville Shale project and because of the risks taken by companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Encana, Petrohawk and EXCO, dreams of a better life are coming true for thousands. Not long ago, British Petroleum announced its discovery of the massive, deepwater Tiber Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. Its potential production is estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000 barrels of oil per day and reserves of 4 to 6 billion barrels of oil equivalent, which includes natural gas. To put those numbers into perspective, the Tiber Prospect alone could provide 5 percent of the U.S. daily oil production.

With energy, the sky is the limit in Louisiana. Unfortunately, these new discoveries have been under significant assault by this Congress and administration. Early on in the planning stages, Fenstermaker's vision was to incorporate into the festivities a roundtable discussion about energy called "Knights of the Round Table," but he instead decided on a more fitting name. In concert with this year's ball chairman, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, Fenstermaker's vision was to focus the Washington Mardi Gras on Louisiana's energy industry with the theme "Energy-Louisiana Style."

Sitting at the table would be Louisiana's entire congressional delegation and the leaders of some of Louisiana's top energy companies. The purpose of the roundtable would be to promote an open dialogue concerning Louisiana's oil and gas industry and the current heated issues before Congress.

In the backdrop of the historic Mayflower Hotel, on Friday Jan. 22, 2010, the Energy Roundtable convened. As one CEO noted, "I have never been in a meeting where all of the delegation was in attendance; it was well worth the trip." Around the table were the presidents, CEOs, COOs, and senior VPs of some of Louisiana's leading oil and gas companies. Some of those in attendance were Charles C. Goodson of PetroQuest Energy, David Welch of Stone Energy, Ken Blanchard of Superior Energy Services, Tracy Evans of Denbury Resources and Bruce Vincent of Swift Energy.

Ball chairman Boustany opened the unprecedented meeting: "There have not been the most friendly signals coming out of the White House from Democratic leadership about energy. ... We don't want a punitive energy policy; we want an energy policy that unleashes innovation and technology."

Fenstermaker followed Boustany, emphasizing the importance of investments into the industry and noted that the kind of uncertainty that has been created by the actions of the Obama administration will inevitably shy investors away. Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle thanked all of the companies for their investment in Louisiana and provided a little humor to the meeting by telling a comical story about forgetting his wife inside of a U-Haul trailer on a family vacation. Each of Louisiana's nine congressional delegates followed by giving brief statements before getting down to business.

Guy Caruso, former chief of the Energy Information Administration, was the moderator for the roundtable discussion. Caruso, a veteran on energy facts and statistics, did an excellent job in keeping the executives and lawmakers focused on current issues, such as hydraulic fracturing, taxes and global warming. Louisiana's congressional delegation received solid information on all issues discussed from the executives in attendance. In return, the executives walked away from the meeting feeling that their concerns were heard and the event was well worth their time.

Thanks to all of those who planned the event and those who attended, the energy roundtable was a great success. It is such a rare occasion when industry leaders and elected officials meet in such a way to tackle complex issues and solve difficult challenges. By working together, we can find common sense solutions to our energy challenges. As the energy debate continues in Washington, we will continue to fight to ensure and protect the viability of the oil and gas industry. For over a century, this industry has remained the backbone of Louisiana's economy and continues to be one of our most important economic drivers. With increased activity and discoveries such as the Haynesville Shale in northwest Louisiana, now, more than ever, our state will play a significant role in our nation's energy debate.

Don Briggs lives in Lafayette and has been president of the Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association since 1992. Bridget Boustany contributed to this column.