Drastic budget cuts spell doom

What? No Geological Survey in Louisiana?

The attention-grabbing antics of rapscallion Louisiana politicians who often rule the roost, so to speak, have long overshadowed the state’s considerable importance to the United States, particularly in the energy milieu.

The region is rife with oil and gas fields, both on- and offshore, which have contributed significantly to the domestic energy supply for many years. Top this off with the many petrochemical complexes and refineries, and it’s an impressive mix.

For the past couple of years, the E&P spotlight has focused on the relatively new high-profile Haynesville Shale gas play, concentrated mainly in northwestern Louisiana.

The new, new play on the unconventional shale scene is the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale spreading across central Louisiana and into southwestern Mississippi. It has evaded commercial production for years but may be on the cusp of a successful run given the newly initiated ongoing activity there. (See related story)

Together, the two plays have the potential to create jobs, jobs and more jobs.

But not at the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS), whose days appear to be numbered.

Given the notable evolving plays in the state’s oil patch, it’s ironic, indeed, that the LGS may soon be rendered extinct owing to lack of funds.

Created legislatively in 1934, the agency was moved out of the Department of Natural Resources in 1997 to Louisiana State University (LSU), where it has been physically housed since its creation.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the 17-staff-member LGS had a budget of $980,948 funded from the state appropriation to LSU. This followed a cut of about 13 percent during the previous three years.

It gets worse.

Chacko John
Chacko John

“Our budget will be cut 34 percent this year and maybe more,” said LGS director and state geologist Chacko John, an AAPG member. “The budget is set to be phased-out within three years.

“LSU expects LGS to totally fund itself from grants and contracts from external sources during this three-year time span,” he added. “This is virtually impossible, especially in today’s economic climate.”

The situation brings to mind the adage “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

“The Survey has attracted millions of dollars in external research funding to LSU while associated with the university,” John remarked. “Our research projects, contracts, grants and publications are extremely valuable to explore Louisiana’s oil, gas, water and mineral resources.”

Key Contributions

Another bit of irony comes into play when considering the LGS folks were way ahead of the game when it comes to the Tuscaloosa Marine shale.

In 1997, under the aegis of the then LSU Basin Research Institute, they first researched and published a report that tagged the TMS as an unproven unconventional seven billion barrel oil resource.

“With all of the Marine shale activity today, people are wanting more detail,” John said, “but we can’t do anything now because of the budget cuts.”

The LGS has long had a full plate in addition to oil and gas. A look at only a few of its numerous other key contributions is revealing:

  • Faculty and staff often have taken on crucial roles during hurricanes, assisting agencies ranging from federal to local to accomplish rescue and other efforts, in large part via specific map creation.
  • The agency has been modeling freshwater aquifers and has a two-year grant from three parishes to analyze data from hundreds of wells to acquire information critical for continued development of the Haynesville shale play.
  • Given the LGS staff’s recognized expertise in developing the geopressured-geothermal resources of the Gulf Coast, LGS is among the state geological surveys assisting the DOE in a $21 million program to establish a national data base of geothermal information.

In the oil and gas arena, it’s no small matter that the Basin Research Energy Section of the agency fills the role of a geological research group catering to the requests and needs of independent oil and gas companies, who have no in-house research staff (in most cases). These companies have long been the backbone of Louisiana’s success in oil and gas E&P.

Should the LGS actually be dismantled, Louisiana will be the only state in the continental United States without a state geological survey.

Editor's Note: Shortly after press time, John received unofficial word that the LGS will not be subject to any budget cuts at this time. He is still awaiting written confirmation.

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