Port Fourchon, a conduit for 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply, is more vulnerable to storm damage today than it was just a year ago. September brought with it back-to-back hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico that blew apart the port’s jetties, rearranged its protective beaches, and ripped to shreds an all-important seawall that protects more than 600 developed acres and a 700-acre expansion. The damage to the seawall alone amounts to roughly $40 million. But it’s a relatively minor cost when considering the port’s total economic impact to the U.S. oil and gas sector is estimated to be $63.4 billion, says Ted Falgout, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Despite the strategic role Port Fourchon plays in the national energy chain (it’s located between Golden Meadow and Grand Isle in lower Lafourche Parish), Falgout says the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t yet acted with urgency in addressing the port’s needs. “We have still not gotten FEMA to come over here and do a project worksheet to determine the economic damages, but my estimate is $40 million,” Falgout says. “There’s also another $12 to $15 million in damage to the jetties and beach, but the seawall was totally destroyed. We have to rebuild that first line of defense. We are much more vulnerable to storm damage now than we were prior to hurricanes Gustav and Ike.”
Port Fourchon was temporarily shut down for seven days between the two hurricanes. Based on the financial conditions at the time, Falgout says $1 billion of oil wasn't reaching the market each day because Fourchon and the fields it serves were not operational. “There’s still not 100 percent of production back up in the gulf,” he says.
Local officials, however, know it could have been worse. For every day the port was down, more than 2,000 workers didn’t have a job. When coupled with other gigs in the gulf, the workforce figure exceeds 8,000. “We really stared down the bullet,” said state Rep. Gordon Dove, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
According to a study conducted by Baton Rouge economist Loren C. Scott in April, there are other economic factors to consider as well, like spin-off industries and feeder services. A “conservative estimate” of the impact Port Fourchon would have if it were shuttered for three consecutive weeks include a loss of $10 million in sales at U.S. firms, a loss of $3 million in household earnings in the U.S. and a loss of 77,000 jobs in the nation.