It's no big secret that the energy sector is a huge contributor to Louisiana's economy. According to the Energy Information Administration, Louisiana is one of the nation's biggest energy producers and consumers, largely because of the industrial sector, which includes many refineries and petrochemical plants. In fact, with 19 operating crude oil refineries, Louisiana ranks second in the nation in both total and operating refinery capacity. Nearly 112,000 miles of pipelines transporting crude petroleum and natural gas run throughout the state and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the Henry Hub natural gas distribution point in Erath, Louisiana, is the interconnecting point for nine interstate and four intrastate pipelines that provide access to major markets throughout the country.
A 2014 study by Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott cited that the oil and gas industry's total direct and indirect annual impact on the state economy is around $73.8 billion from taxes, royalties, fees, salaries and other money spent in Louisiana by the industry. Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), oil and gas extraction and petroleum and coal products manufacturing accounted for more than 12 percent of Louisiana's real gross domestic product in 2012.
Consequently, what happens in energy markets influences Louisiana's economic performance. So when oil prices tumbled in 2014, I wondered about the extent of the impact on the state's economy. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell from a peak of more than $105 in mid-2014 to less than $50 a barrel in early 2015. The price has since recovered a bit, to about $61 a barrel as of June 11, yet it remains a fair distance from last year's peak (see chart 1).
Earlier this year, the Atlanta Fed's Energy Advisory Council shared some insights about changes in business activity and investment in the region as a result of lower energy prices, which I recapped here. But what about the labor market? During the last several months, I've seen numerous announcements of worldwide oil and gas layoffs, which Houston consulting firm Graves & Co. tallied at more than 100,000 jobs. How many Louisiana energy sector workers will be caught up in those layoffs?
Unfortunately, the true impact is not very easy to extrapolate. It's not as simple as extracting employment data on oil and gas industries, since pieces of so many other industries (such as manufacturing and construction) support the energy sector. Plus, even more industries are influenced by the energy sector's growth or contraction, such as education, health care, tourism, and services industries—it's extremely difficult to determine the number of "spillover" jobs created or lost. Using an input-output table constructed by the BEA, the impact study cited above estimated that for every job created in the extraction, refining, and pipeline industries, 3.4 additional jobs are created in other industries in Louisiana. Holding all else constant, that multiplier should apply to jobs lost in Louisiana's economy.
Business contacts in the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) have cited instances of layoffs tied to falling energy prices over the last few months. Furthermore, various media outlets have reported recent layoffs in Louisiana's energy sector (for example, here, here, and here). However, REIN contacts also indicated that firms that generally compete with oil and gas companies for workers in a very tight labor market have scooped up recently laid off workers, likely masking the net impact and potentially clouding the multiplier calculation.
If the focus is on jobs lost in Louisiana's energy sector alone as a result of falling energy prices, at this time I'll concentrate on what's happened in the segment that encompasses the bulk of energy-related jobs: the goods-producing sector, which includes the mining and logging, construction, and manufacturing subsectors. When more detailed industry data through the first quarter of 2015 are published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) later this year, I'll revisit the impact on specific energy-related industries.
In mid-2014, when the price of oil peaked and then began to fall, jobs in the goods-producing sector in Louisiana followed a very similar trajectory (see chart 2).
In July 2014, the goods-producing sector contributed about 4,000 new jobs on net in Louisiana. Then, as the price of oil began to fall, job creation followed suit, and in January 2015 the sector subtracted nearly 3,000 jobs. Judging from the data, as well as REIN anecdotes, it is clear that oil price declines from mid-2014 to early 2015 resulted in job losses in Louisiana's energy sector. Recent BLS data reflected just 800 net goods-producing jobs lost in the state in April. So is the environment improving, considering oil prices recovered a bit?
Reports from REIN contacts have been mixed. Some business leaders indicate that the volatility of lower energy prices has become better understood and integrated into flexible business plans, positioning firms to respond to the current environment. However, their response, in some cases, has involved and continues to involve layoffs, though these reports have tempered recently.
Time will tell what the ultimate impact of this period of precipitous oil price declines will be on Louisiana's economy and labor market. I'll revisit this topic after our next Energy Advisory Council meeting and the release later this year of detailed industry data from the BLS.
By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed