I read a book recently that brought back memories of when I stood on various offshore drilling vessels and platforms and watched OSVs maneuvering and unloading. The book is the “Rise of the Cajun Mariners: The Race for Big Oil” by Woody Falgoux. (The book was reviewed in 2009 by editor David Krapf.)
The author is from the heart of Cajun country in Thibodaux, La., and his book is an excellent account of four families from the Bayou Lafourche area and their rise in the emerging offshore service vessel market.
The book deals with the lives of four Cajun families (the Orgerons, Theriots, Cheramies and Guidrys) plus a wide range of well-known names in the industry, including the Candies, Savoies, Bollingers and the OSV operator Tidewater. The first offshore boats were wooden tugs in the 50-foot range and many of the first “Cajun mariners” were seasoned commercial fishermen and hunters. These men were well skilled in navigating the bayous and inland waterways of south Louisiana. It didn’t take them long to figure out that the nascent oil and gas boom in Cajun country offered a significant financial upgrade to fishing and hunting.
From there, it was just a matter of developing the vessel technology and coping with the multiple downturns in the industry. That is most of the story, and it is a very good one.
The rest of the book is a sad journey up to the current industry with those who have managed to survive. It begins with hurricanes Katrina and Rita that actually gave the industry a shot in the arm when it sorely needed one. The clean up boom that resulted seemed temporary, until hurricanes Gustav and Ike came along in 2008.
As Falgoux notes, during this time, “Central Gulf Towing employed all nine of its tugs, working everything from salvage to anchor handling to rig moving.” Out in deeper waters, L&M BoTruc’s Pat Pitre and M.J. Cheramie hired out all 14 of their Botrucs (OSVs), amassing enough cash to slowly upgrade their fleet. But the Macondo-Deepwater Horizon incident killed it all. Following the disaster, L&M’s Tony Cheramie saw a disturbing trend emerging. He believed oilfield operators had “too much access to capital,” Falgoux wrote, which threatened to crowd the Gulf with an oversupply of rigs and boats once exploration slowed. He was, of course, right.