Whether deserved or not, the mere
mention of Louisiana often conjures up images of Party-Central,
along with corrupt politicos ruling via the stereotypical style
of good-ol'-boy wheeling 'n' dealing.
But by golly, the powers-that-be are out to dispel
this bad rap once and for all.
They intend to accomplish this feat via a master
plan for economic development first implemented in 1997 by the Louisiana
Economic Development Council.
Dubbed Vision 2020, the initiative is described as
a living strategic plan containing a series of benchmarks for education,
information technology and industry-specific initiatives to make
Louisiana one of the top 10 states to live, work, visit and conduct
business by the year 2020.
The recently announced initial five-year update of
the master plan is focused on maximizing Louisiana's current strength
in oil and gas exploration and production.
"Louisiana is the number two domestic natural gas
producer — and number one in oil if you include the OCS," said
Bill Fenstermaker, chairman of the Louisiana Independent Oil and
"You can plot the Louisiana economy on a graph and
plot the price of oil and gas, and they correlate," Fenstermaker
noted. "Oil and gas is Louisiana, but most people don't recognize
The vital role the industry plays in the state's
economy was highlighted in a study commissioned by the Louisiana
Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, which showed the industry
generated an economic impact of $93 billion in 2001. The study,
conducted by Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott, also
revealed oil and gas activity supports 341,519 direct and indirect
jobs in Louisiana and is responsible for more than $12.2 billion
in household earnings.
Were it not for the onerous restrictions, rules,
environmental issues and challenging, costly permitting requirements
lobbed at the industry, these numbers conceivably could be much
higher. Some oil finders have elected to drill elsewhere rather
than become mired in the pricey, complex regulatory maze.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't be pre-eminent
in the development of energy resources for the country," Fenstermaker
said. "But Louisiana's role has long been ignored by the governmental
side who should recognize it as a major strength and do what they
can to nourish it and make it stronger."
Vision 2020 has the potential to lead to a vastly
improved business environment for the industry, according to Fenstermaker,
who has burned considerable midnight oil helping to craft the recent
update of the initiative.
He outlined a series of action items approved by
Gov. Mike Foster and the LAEDC as part of the Vision 2020 strategic
Develop a continuous process for streamlining the permitting
process for seismic, drilling, production and pipeline activities,
while assisting Louisiana to capitalize on its natural resources.
This would help to make the permitting process less onerous
and time consuming.
- Develop an annual report examining barriers
to development of energy infrastructure with proposals for eliminating
the ongoing barriers.
To accomplish this, the LAEDC has deployed
a member of its team of cluster professionals to recruit oil
and gas companies and service companies to the state and encourage
them to discuss the barriers that cause Louisiana to be less-competitive.
A summary of the impediments will be filed in a report for study.
- Design a blueprint and funding mechanism
for priorities in energy/oil and gas-related technology research.
Fenstermaker noted that the state's geographic proximity to deepwater
drilling, along with the often-complex deep drilling closer in
make it only natural for the universities to play a part in being
a research group for industry.
He said this could address not only oil
and gas but alternative fuels as well, including the LNG facilities
that have been permitted along the coast.
Attempt to control or cap class-action litigation by addressing
some type of tort reform in Louisiana as it relates to the scope
of environmental and class-action litigation.
- Promote tax reform for a fair and balanced
corporate and business tax structure to promote and provide incentives
for capital investment and eliminate duplicative taxes. This is
consistent with other parts of Vision 2020 that speak of specific
tax reform relative to other industries.
"Vision 2020 can be effective because it
has accountability associated with it," Fenstermaker said. "There
are accountability benchmarks in place to measure how the state
is progressing on an annual basis in achieving the entire plan
"It also transcends administrations," he
added, "so a new government wouldn't start from scratch but
would continue with the same plan."
This is particularly noteworthy, given that a gubernatorial
election is on tap for this October, heralding the end of Gov. Foster's
eight-consecutive-year reign, the maximum allowed.
Even though drilling currently is in a slump in all
the producing states, there's hope that Vision 2020 will position
Louisiana to reap maximum benefits from the much-hoped-for turnaround.
"When drilling does happen, people have choices,
like offshore, international or other states," Fenstermaker said.
"Because these choices exist, we must compete and be a viable alternative.
"Louisiana is still a mecca for oil and gas," he
said, "but we need to have our house in order so when the people
come to do business they can be successful."