1986 Revisited

I will never forget the year 1986. I was general manager of a dynamic Chamber of Commerce in the thriving community of Lafayette, Louisiana. Promoting Lafayette was one of the easiest jobs in the world. Tourists flocked there by the busloads to experience the Cajun culture, and the economy fueled some of the fastest growth in the nation.

But dark clouds started to gather in the mid-1980s and erupted into a fiscal tempest in 1986. The petroleum industry had driven the surge in Lafayette’s economic growth, and in early 1986 oil and gas prices collapsed—crude oil prices went from $34 to $12 per barrel. The effects were immediate and devastating. Unemployment skyrocketed; property values crashed; and a huge outmigration of Louisiana residents began, a trend that lasted well over a decade.

I was one of the many thousands who moved from Lafayette. I was lucky. I only moved 60 miles to Baton Rouge to find employment that would keep my household income whole. The financial beating I took selling my house in Lafayette was mitigated by the financial beating the homeowner in Baton Rouge took selling his house to me. Tens of thousands of others were not so lucky.

The minute I heard the words “six month moratorium” leave President Obama’s lips, my mind went immediately back to the economic miasma of 1986. I realized instantly that if he carried through with that policy, it was going to pummel our economy, eliminate thousands of jobs, and disrupt the lives of many families in the Bayou State. Thus far, that doesn’t seem to bother the President.

On July 21, well over 10,000 individuals who are concerned about the offshore oil moratorium packed the Cajundome in Lafayette—24 years after the earlier economic plague had descended upon that community. Many of them had shared the misery and frustration of that previous oil crash. They knew that their fears of it happening again were real because they had experienced first hand what happens when drilling and exploration stops and the jobs in that industry disappear. It isn’t only drillers, geologists, and roughnecks who are impacted. In 1986 doctors, CPAs, small business owners, veterinarians and other folks not directly employed in the oil industry left Lafayette and other cities in Louisiana for Orlando, Nashville, Atlanta, and other destinations. The crash in oil and gas prices had pushed them away by diminishing their client and customer bases.

The difference between 1986 and today lies in causation. The damage to Louisiana’s economy in the 1980s was brought about by economic factors, specifically the crash in oil and gas prices. The danger today is entirely man-made. It is derived solely from a government edict. If there is a bright spot in the current crisis, it lies in the fact that a government edict is easier to turn around, generally speaking, than worldwide economic factors.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence coming from inside the Obama administration to indicate that they understand the full impact of the economic damage their moratorium is going to inflict on the folks here in Louisiana. Worse yet, if they do understand it, they don’t seem to care about the economic misery that is now working its way onshore from the Gulf.

Perhaps we will be lucky and the harm coming our way from the moratorium won’t be as devastating as the oil price crash of the 1980s. But our fate shouldn’t rest with luck. As the thousands of folks said loud and clear in the Cajundome recently, the moratorium should end now and Louisiana should be spared this unnecessary burden.



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