Thursday, December 28, 2017

What to do next

My previous post focused on the largest Louisiana industrial employers for 3 reasons:
1- they impacted the most people
2- there's the most public domain information on them, so they are the easiest to talk about
3- they are reflective of general trends
There are other small and medium firms that have gone through similar struggles (or might even be thriving), but the big ones are the easiest to talk about.  

I also ended on somewhat of a down note.  I'd like to throw out a few ideas on some various projects that might help right the ship.  Some of them are Megaprojects, which carry special risks as megaprojects are by definition extremely complex, difficult to execute, but, if successfully executed, can be home runs.  A poorly executed project could have the result of looking like Mississippi's Gulfport Port expansion debacle or the Kemper Gassification Plant boondoggle.   Always be on your toes...

Just throwing a few ideas out there, with simple pro/con's for brainstorming, in no particular order:
* LIGTT (nicknamed "Leg-It") or similar truly deepwater port.  
Image result for Louisiana  LGITT deepwater port
(Photo: Advocate).
Pro: Deepwater port would built upon increased traffic from the Neopanama Canal.  Draft does limit access to the Port of New Orleans, especially during the fall when river levels fall and harvests (exports) are at their strongest.  
Con: Expensive ($2B?), lots of dredging.  The biggest risk is vulnerability to a big storm.  A monster storm would wipe the slate clean, like what happened to Gulfport after Katrina.  On the flip side, quite a few Gulf Coast ports are extremely vulnerable to a direct hit from a monster storm, so LGITT wouldn't be that much riskier than the competition.  Heck, the Port of Houston got walloped and it's well inland and was hit by merely a Category 4.  

* Gas-To-Liquids (GTL).  
Pro: utilize cheap natural gas to make higher value added products, usually diesel and lubricants.  
Con: CAPEX intensive.  It requires a large spread in price between gas feedstock and (high) liquids price.  Gas prices are currently cheap, but liquids pricing not enough right now to really justify the initial capital investment.  Both Shell and Sasol have recently pulled the plug (after strongly considering it).  It might happen someday, but not likely anytime soon.  Something like more efficient catalysts might cause a breakthrough, though.  Don't count it completely out.  

* Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
Con: I have mixed feelings about this one.  I worry about too much a rush towards this at once where too many players enter at once and the whole market tanks.  I'm not the only one thinking that.  I also wonder if it's not better to add as much value to raw materials as possible before export rather than just exporting our natural resources on the commodity market.

* Space-X and/or NASA heavy lift vehicle built at Michoud
Pro: Hell yeah!  Huge manufacturing facility with access to the Intracoastal Waterway allows really big things to be chucked into space.
Con: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ :-(.  I can at least re-read The Martian sometime and dream.

* Deepen the Intracoastal waterway
Pro: this would benefit many coastal areas, but especially Louisiana.  
Con: this would have to be done at the federal level.  The costs would increase exponentially the deeper you went.  Right now, it's ~12'.  If you went deeper, say, 25', that gets really expensive fast (at least in certain segments).  

* A second Baton Rouge bridge across the Mississippi.
Pro: Anyone who's driven through Baton Rouge between Noon and 6 PM on a weekday in the past 20 years will tell you it's sorely needed.
Con: Probably >$1B.  The state is broke and would be the most obvious candidate to fund much of the bridge.  PPP looks to be the popular choice at the moment and that means tolls, probably high ones, for quite a while.  Louisiana only has a handful of bridges with tolls (despite having lots of waterways) and don't like paying tolls.  

* Electrified freight (passenger?) rail
Pro: This was one that really fascinated me on The Oil Drum (back when that was still kicking).  It can be a silver BB that hits lots of birds with one stone.  
Con: would be most effective if done on an interstate basis.  

* River Diversion South of New Orleans
Image result for Is It Feasible to Build New Land in the Mississippi River Delta?
Pro: We could start cleaning up the environmental mess we left in this state.  Can help buffer against future storm surges.  2 paired diversions (one on the eastbank, one on the westbank somewhere downriver from English Turn).  
Con: I might be dead before this thing ever gets off the ground.  It's been discussed for ages, but money and permitting are perennial headaches.  

Just something to noodle a while.  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Deindustrialization of South Louisiana

The oil bust has started to level out, but we're still seeing the effects of the deindustrialization of South Louisiana, it's been touched on by The Advocate and Library Chronicles  and I'd like to take a moment to discuss it a bit further.  It's had some coverage in the media, but nobody has ever really managed to tie together a lot of threads to my liking.  

Louisiana went from ~172k manufacturing jobs to just ~135k.  Employment isn't even flat, not to mention lagging population growth.  

(From The Advocate)

Some of this is natural boom/bust cycle of mineral extraction, but lately there's been more than that.  
The above graph is mining/logging (upstream oil and gas) employment in Louisiana from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  You can see the big dropoff that led to the latest oil bust (the worst bust in at least a generation).  There's been somewhat of a boom in the downstream (refining) and midstream (pipeline) side of the oil patch, but that's been somewhat muted and hasn't completely softened the blow.  The recent runup to ~$65/bbl also hasn't done a lot to revive job growth.  

Louisiana used to also have a more diverse group of manufacturers.  For example, Michoud used to crank out external tanks for the Space Shuttle program.  

As the shuttle program slowed to a crawl after the Columbia explosion and eventually ended, Michoud went into a semi-dormant state.  It's not shuttered; they still make several things at Michoud (structural components for the F-35, some big LNG tanks, and components of the delayed Space Launch System [SLS] program).  Michoud is a special facility; if you want to send something big into space and launch it from the Cape, you pretty much have to build it at Michoud so a renaissance someday under, say, SpaceX isn't out of the question.

Louisiana's largest industrial employer up until very recently was Avondale Shipyard.  I recently read a book, The Yard, by Michael Sanders, that was primarily about Bath Iron Works, but talked quite a bit about how healthy Avondale  at that time (2001)  in comparison to the other Navy shipyards.  I half expected the book to end with the closure of Bath and success of Avondale.  Avondale had the cheapest labor pool of any of the major naval shipyards, had large facilities, and out of all the naval shipyards had the best track record of doing commercial/nongovernmental work.  One would think that those advantages would keep the yard open.

Unfortunately, as we all know Avondale Shipyard closed.  There's still a very small amount of engineering and drafting work being done at Avondale, but it's pretty much closed.  Recently, the floating drydock was towed away (for scrapping?) in South America:
Photo via WGNO.

Without that floating drydock, Avondale will never be a real shipyard again.  That drydock has a side that drops away and allows for large vessels to be onloaded, floated out, and gently launched in the water.  Launching a big ship the old fashioned way (via a Ways) is too risky and too complicated to do for large vessels in as tight and congested a waterway as the Mississippi.  Building a new drydock would cost at least $50m on top of acquisition costs for the shipyard.  I heard a rumor Huntington Ingalls is asking $40m for the site; the Port of New Orleans, one of the few potential buyers heard that price and laughed.

Why did Avondale close?  There's always a plethora of reasons for something big like this (many detailed here), but a few I'll touch on are first off, the general downturn in naval shipbuilding (after the buildup of the 80's combined with the demise of the Soviet Union, just not as much of a need), the demise of the domestic shipbuilding industry after the elimination of Tittle XI of Commercial Differential Subsidies in 1981 (more here and here in Chapter 10 of "Staying Afloat"), the failure to adopt more modern construction techniques (Avondale was actually the first US shipyard to install an automated panel-line welder, but later lagged in the adoption of "Group Technology" shipbuilding practices), and the consolidation of the industry.  That last one is the final nail in the coffin, as Avondale and Pascagoula were both owned by Newport News Shipbuilding [Northrup Grumman] and as there was less work to go around, the corporate parent picked which child it wanted to live and which to let whither away.

Pascagoula also had an added advantage in that last fight: Pascagoula was awarded nearly $2B to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina; Avondale didn't get such an award [but did have significant disruption to its workforce housing in Katrina].  Taxpayers basically bought Huntington Ingalls a brand new shipyard.  If you could only keep one shipyard open, which would you choose: the brand new, modern, efficient one or the old one that has airdraft restrictions (bridge height)?  There was a GAO audit against Pascagoula and they didn't get to keep all of the $2B, but they kept enough to make the difference.

The other major industrial employer in South Louisiana that used to employ nearly as many as Avondale (at least when times were good) was McDermott's large fabrication facility in Amelia, Louisiana.  The Amelia facility started in 1956 and went on to build some of the largest and most complicated offshore structures of anyplace on earth.  It actually outgrew its first location on Bayou Beouf and moved further down the bayou.  When times boomed, it'd be end to end jackets spread over hundreds of acres with thousands of workers.
1977 Press Photo Project Cognac, Drilling Platform for Shell Oil Company
Being attached to a highly cyclic industry, the workforce size rose and plunged with the price per barrel, but McDermott seemed to hold onto enough talent during the busts to be the quickest on their feet when the boom returned.  One example of how I've heard is the McDermott side of the story of the American Queen.  Everyone hated working on the American Queen.  The vessel was actually built mostly on spec by McDermott without a really firm contract up front.  The fab yard never really wanted to become a shipyard (oil patch and shipbuilding being dissimilar enough), but the management knew a boom would later come and wanted to hold onto as many hands as possible.  Suppliers got pushed around and annoyed, workers were ridden hard, but eventually the ship was finished in 1995, just in time to clear the yard for Shell's series of TLP's mostly built at McDermott (whose hulls were built overseas and generally integrated to the Topsides elsewhere).  While it was a rough project that McDermott didn't make a profit on, the boat filled timesheets and a lot of folks learned good lessons from that project.  The American Queen didn't do well under the first operator, who went into bankruptcy, but the new owner is doing quite well, so I've heard.  It seems that American tourists are too terrified of getting beheaded by ISIS to go on Danube cruises and are sticking closer to home.

So, it came as some surprise when lots of rumors of the Amelia Fab yard's closure started to come out in the early 2010's.  Oil prices were still well over $100/Bbl.  But, McDermott, who used to be the top name in offshore fabrication had been slowly supplanted by Kiewitt Offshore Services (KOS) in Ingleside, TX.

One of Kiewitt's keys was the HLD (Heavy Lifting Device):
Candice and HLD

Engineers should never be allowed to name anything because HLD is a horrible name; the largest crane in the Western Hemisphere should have a cooler name than that.  The HLD allowed the lifting of bigger, more complete modules for deeper water, more complicated platforms.  One story I've heard is that the HLD was actually a "design in a drawer" that originated with McDermott engineers, but management didn't have the vision to see the market and balked at the pricetag. Those engineers quit, convinced Kiewitt to enter the market with a substantially lower, innovative bid that beat McDermott to win one project and Bullwinkle Constructors LLC (a limited liability corporation Kiewitt partnered in) was later converted into KOS.


McDermott Amelia's days were numbered as the rumors turned out to be true.  McDermott shifted its operations to Altamira Mexico, where they've hired a thousand workers this year, even in a down market.  Their New Orleans engineering office was also shuttered as everything consolidated to Houston.

The upswing of a sustained oil boom are over.  The state now has a hangover with massive job loses (in fact, Houma-Thibodaux currently has the fourth most depressed economy in the nation (ranked by census tract), TOPS perennially teetering on insolvency and the state's budget is in shambles.  What comes next?  Does everyone just pack up for Houston?  I sure as hell hope not.  What comes next is we get up, figure out what comes next, and do it.

Update: Chouest predicts 2018 will be yet another slow year. Chouest is one of the last medium sized industrial manufacturers left in Louisiana.

Upperdate: Minor corrections for clarity and spelling.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


The importance of primary sources is the key of the modern historical method.  That method was first established by Thucydides in the 5th Century B.C.E.  Thucydides did something revolutionary; he created a narrative history that, for the first time, tossed aside myth, focused on facts, emphasized primary sources, and compared sources critically against each other.  Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War is the first modern history.

How this history has reached us over all the eons and war and flood and famine amazes me.  Recently, I sat down and read The Landmark Thucydides cover to cover.  It took months, but I've finally finished.

The Landmark histories are an effort to make primary sources as accessible as possible.  The primary sources are given to the reader in the most readable translation available.  Introductions and appendices to the text bookend a text that's filled with footnotes, cliff notes, and maps.  Given the minutia that Thucydides dives into, the maps are an essential part of really following the action.  The top of each page has the year, location, and book the narrative is in.  They really bend over backwards to make the original text as accessible to as broad an audience as possible.  It's a noble endeavour.

A primary source can be "unpolluted" by later interpretations and sometimes, the first opinion is the right one.  I've always been fascinated by Alcibiades.  I remember when I first learned about him in my classics course at BFHS how amazing it was that he was sentenced to death (sometimes multiple times) by each side in a 3 sided war.  I almost admired him for that.  After reading the Thuycidides, I have a much harsher opinion of him; he was an aristocratic scoundrel from the beginning betrayed Athens multiple times.  Thuycidides is almost completely unsympathetic to him. 

What I learned in Thucydides was how universal a few things about the human condition really are.  "We'll be greeted as liberators" and "it will be a cakewalk" and "the oil will pay for everything" are slogans that could be used in a hoplite war as easily as a modern war.

The other thing is how durable democracies can be.  Athens suffered defeat after defeat after defeat and as the text closes (Thucydides' account of the final battle has been lost to the ether of time) still stands (wobbly) on it's feet.  The autocracies in the book could never withstand the body blows that Athens endured.

Athens ultimately lost the war, but in a way, the war was just a battle; the war of logic and critical thinking was ultimately won by Athens.

On the way to Tokyo

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

May you receive many presents and no lumps of coal.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Welldeck, USS Arlington

Thoughts on the end of Graduate School

Is this thing still on?  So, I've been a wee bit busy lately, with work and school and family.
The good news is that I'm finally done with my Master's. It's been a long, difficult journey, but I'm glad I did it. I've also been blessed with tons of support from my family. 

I got a Master's in a different engineering discipline (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering), so it's taken much longer to get through, but the extra challenge was worth it. 

When I started in 2011, there were many reasons I wanted to go to graduate school. In no particular order:
* I was disappointed in how things ended at Tulane. Working through your senior year in the Katrina aftermath with your professors getting laid off was no fun.
* More and more, a M.S. is the expected background for a professional engineer, especially if you're going to work on the most challenging project. See also the BS+30 possible pending requirement from ABET ( ).
* In case the oil patch went to hell. All industries today are cyclical (except maybe the undertakers), but the oil patch is far more cyclical than most.  Boom times are really, really good and bust times are really, really bad. Feast or famine. In Fall 2011, oil was right at ~$100/bbl (WTI). Now, it's under $40/bbl. 
* Naval Architecture is just damned interesting and I've always had a fascination with the sea.

There were some semesters that were really tough. I'd be working 2-3 days a week down at a shipyard in Morgan City, the other days working in the CBD, then driving to UNO to take 2 graduate classes. Lots of running around!

There were also some annoyances. Problems getting advising  (4000 vs 6000 level classes). UNO still had some minor damage from Katrina (K+6 years and still no working water fountains at first). The state trying everything possible to screw with the school (axing the incredibly popular Tim Ryan, then being rudderless for years, then hiring Fos, who was OK, but no Ryan, then canning Fos...). Tuition, but especially fees skyrocketing every semester.  My total out of pocket went up >10% per year each year. UNO used to be an absolute bargain, but now it's merely affordable. 

Some of the cool little things:
* Taking classes beside my regulators. I got to work with folks from the USCG and MMS/BSEE. 
* Learning a new discipline and also taking classes in completely new things (I took a geology class for instance). ABET rigidly dictates undergraduate curricula, but is hands off at the M.S. level, so I had a lot of freedom to pick my own way through. 
* Labs are one of the things that a brick and mortar school still has over online programs. 
* Chevron had a little program where they would kick some money to UNO in order to offer 1 Petroleum Engineering class per semester. UNO has wanted to start a full department, but LSU always said 'Hell No!'. Anyway, most of the course was taught by an old drilling engineer who taught from a wheelchair. The crown block on a rig fell on him when he was younger. When he talked about safety, you listened. I also tend to deal with the 'Christmas Tree' & Up at work, so learning a little about the 'Downhole Stuff' (more colorful term is commonly used) was different. 
* After having to do a Lines Plan by hand, I have much more respect for the older draftsmen & engineers. Not an easy task.
* Probably my single favorite class the whole way through was Ocean & Coastal Engineering. Old professor who's very popular with the students, lots of Army Corps of Engineers manuals, and lots of jumping around. Also lots of lab work looking at modeling wave action in the small scale and Froude scaling to full scale.

Anyway, I loved it. I got out of my comfort zone, I was challenged to think, I'm glad I did it, and now I'm glad I don't have to go to class after work anymore. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lunch at the shipyard cafeteria

Fried fish, rice, sauce, kimchi daikon radish, Cole slaw, and clear soup.


The infamous button-riffic toilet

In Tokyo. Yes, I figured it out (after a little while).

Geoje-do, South Korea

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Inside of the Ramjet of the SR-71. The P&W J-58 could endure sustained speeds of Mach 3.2. The temperature limitations of the skin of the SR-71 was actually what restricted how fast the aircraft could travel.

It's called the Blackbird because black skin color maximized the radiative heat transfer of the aircraft.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

It's already well into hurricane season... Are your pumps working?

Maybe, maybe not.
Image may contain: sky and outdoor
Pump station #3 in St. Bernard Parish near Meraux.  Photo dated June 21st 2017.  

It's not like those pumps are important or anything.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It is a mathematical certainty

Sometimes engineers have to explain to project managers their ideas don't hold water.

Get well soon

I sincerely hope my Congressman makes a full and speedy recovery.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ancien régime.

“We must admit…that we are …Bourbons.”
Baton Rouge Mayor Leon Jastremski, 1882

He said it as though it was a compliment.

Source (PDF).

Friday, May 19, 2017


"I think it wisest not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered." - Robert E Lee

Sunday, April 30, 2017

View of Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg

I decided to kind of do a 1 man reenactment of Pickett's Charge. I started near the Virginia monument, walked through the valley of death between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Hill, then ended up near the Copse of Trees and the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. It's approximately the same route as Lo Armistead.  He was one of the few Confederates who made it to the Angle and through the first of 3 Federal Army lines. There he was fatally wounded. As he lay there bleeding out, he asked the Union officer who captured him how his best friend, General Winfield Scott Hancock was doing. The Union officer happed to be Gen. Hancock's​ Aide-de-camp and informed the dying Confederate officer (erroneously) Hancock had been struck dead. General Armistead expired.

Hancock was wounded and survived and would later become one of the first presidents of the NRA.

What struck me the most on my walk was how exposed I felt. There was no cover whatsoever and high ground everywhere. To attack ~8,000 dug in troops with ~15-20,000 (the later figure includes the artillery) across that ground was a suicide mission. I completely understand why Gen. Longstreet was nearly insubordinate in his attempts to get Robert E. Lee to change his mind.

Friday, April 28, 2017


Gettysburg National Cemetery

Sunday, April 2, 2017


In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here;
States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity, The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

-Lord Byron.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Lately have had a few CBD lunches at Peche. It's been reliably great food, quick service, and a reasonable price. It's in the old American Coffee building.

Their specialty is oysters from certain areas in Louisiana. The areas that are on the saltier side of the brackish scale actually taste briney. It's also one of the few places I know to buy the experimental off bottom oysters the LSU Ag Center is trying.

The shrimp roll is good as are the Brussels sprouts (it's a Link restaurant).

Throw me something Mister

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Michael Dorn in awesome early 90s clothing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"I can catch beads at Mardi Gras"

Krewe du Vieux rolls tonight! See you there!