Monday, August 23, 2010

BP -- The Best Big Employer in Louisiana

How long will it take for the former Gulf of Mexico fishermen, who are now operating their boats as Vessels of Opportunity in service of BP, to get the idea they can artificially prolong their high paid employment while enjoying the light demands of their current jobs? They're going to milk this thing as long as possible. Maybe they'll do a little fishing on the side.

But the belief that fishermen lost their livelihoods is pure nonsense. The oil has nearly departed the Gulf waters. Some was dispersed through chemical action, some was skimmed off the water's surface, some was burned off the surface and some evaporated. But about 25% of the oil is unaccounted for. Where is it? some is undoubtedly mixed in the water of the Gulf, but most is probably heading out into the Atlantic in the Gulf Stream. It will be gone soon and by next year the water, the sea life will have returned to normal.

What does that add up to? One thing. Buy BP stock. As this issue fades and the company returns to normal operations, the price will rise. Moreover, the company will resume paying its dividend as soon as its politically possible. That means the stock will rise from its current price of about $36 a share to its $60 price before the rig explosion within the next two years. Combining capital appreciation and the reinstated dividend, the two-year gain is likely to reach 70%.

Louisiana fishermen net more cash working for BP

Venice, Louisiana

August 22 2010

A skiff prepares to go out at the start of the white shrimp season. Many shrimpers are employed cleaning up the BP oil spill

In the early afternoon, when the Louisiana sun begins its slow descent, the wide and shady bow of the Soul Mama provides an excellent place to hang a hammock, as Neil Foret has discovered over the past few months.

The white shrimp season officially began this week in Louisiana, and at this time of year 46-year-old Mr Foret, a hardened Cajun shrimper from Houma in the Mississippi delta, would normally be out on the water plying the trade that has kept him and his family since he was 13.

But now that he is a BP contractor through the oil company’s Vessels of Opportunity programme, designed to employ local fishermen in the oil spill clean-up operations, he earns more consistent money, and works a lot less than he used to.

“BP is a very nice fella, and this is a guaranteed cheque,” he says, pointing to a huge yellow skin or “bladder” on his boat that is used to collect skimmed oil. “I’m sticking with this for as long as I can.”

All over Louisiana, it is the same story: fishermen involved in the programme – according to BP, there are 2,000 vessels currently on active hire in the VoO – are discovering that hauling oil boom is far less taxing than shrimping, and they are in no hurry to return to their traditional way of life.

In Venice, Louisiana, the nerve centre of BP’s operation to remove the estimated 200m gallons of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after the blowout of Deepwater Horizon on April 20, the atmosphere is like a modern-day version of the Californian gold rush.

Pick-up trucks drive up and down the puddled road leading to BP’s command centre, and contractors of dozens of different companies offering a seemingly endless array of services line up to report on work as well as to seek out the latest opportunities. Captain Michael Owen, better known as the big “O”, has been doing pretty well out of BP. For the past three months, he and his 24-foot fishing boat have been ferrying clean-up workers to parts of the Gulf affected by the oil spill.

As a BP contractor, he does not have to worry about securing charter fishing contracts for small parties of tourists visiting the Mississippi delta, the business he ran until the oil spill. Nor does he have to stress over the pressure to find fish – redfish and speckled trout – for his demanding clients.

“I’m super happy with BP,” he says. “And I’m not taking a cut [in pay].”

Of course, for those fishermen who have not been able to get on the programme, the oil spill has been a devastating blow. They have been almost closed down for the past four months because of widespread fishing bans.

More worrying, perhaps, is that the oil spill has undermined the image Gulf seafood once had in the rest of the country.

In the first week of the white shrimp season, many fishermen complain that docks and processing plants throughout Louisiana remain closed because their customers no longer want to buy.

But for those commercial and charter fishermen on the programme, there has been little in the way of grumbling since the oil spill. As Chucky Farkas, a blond shrimper with piercing blue eyes and thickset shoulders, says, “Some people complain about BP but you ain’t going to hear me complaining.”

Between the rain showers that pass over the bayous of southern Louisiana during the summer months, Bobby Dugas relaxes with a cigarette and a beer on the deck of a nearby marina.

Mr Dugas, a lean and tanned 54-year-old with a bald head and a white tuft of hair under his lip, is officially contracted until about 5pm each day. But he says that he often finishes early.

It has been that way for many of the 74 days he has been on the oil company’s payroll. And at $1,500 a day – $1,200 for his boat and $300 for his time – he is reasonably happy with how his summer has gone.

“It takes you three days to make that charter fishing,” says a charter fisherman from Port Sulphur about 30 miles up the road. “Thank god for BP.”

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