By Robert Mann
Louisiana and its politicians have long embraced some unhealthy myths: Corruption in our politics isn’t so bad. Teachers are the real problem with our schools. Poor people are lazy. Climate change is a hoax. Oil is crucial to our economy because it employs so many workers and funds our government.
Few myths have damaged us more than the last one. Our blind allegiance to oil and gas has led to lax or poorly enforced environmental laws. The worst actors in the industry have destroyed our wetlands and poisoned our water.
And our eagerness to subsidize this industry has cost us billions in tax revenue. A 2015 report by the Legislative Auditor found that one exemption from one state tax — the severance tax on horizontal drilling — resulted in the loss of $1.1 billion from 2010 to 2014. Last year, the 27 state tax exemptions Louisiana grants to oil and gas interests amounted to $195 million. In 2012, during the height of the oil boom, the state let slip away $527 million in oil revenue; the following year, $462 million.
Since 2013, Louisiana has absolved one natural gas company, Cameron LNG, of more than $3 billion in property taxes. Since 2010, the state has awarded Cheniere Energy and its subsidiaries more than $3 billion in local and state tax subsidies. And in 2016, Louisiana gave Venture Global LNG $1.86 billion in property tax exemptions.
Total permanent jobs promised by those companies in return for the tax exemptions: about 1,400 (an average of $5.5 million in state and local subsidies per job). Industry officials claim without these generous tax breaks, they cannot afford to do business here.
That might be a stronger argument if energy exploration and refining weren’t already among the most profitable enterprises on Earth. Five of the 12 largest corporations in the world (by revenue) are oil companies, despite the slump in oil prices.
But these corporations provide plenty of good jobs for Louisiana workers, right? “The Louisiana oil and gas industry is one of the leading employers in the state,” the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association claims. The most recent employment numbers on its website — 64,000 — are from 2013, when oil was around $90 a barrel. The American Petroleum Institute (API), meanwhile, claims 291,00 Louisiana workers were employed in the industry in 2015.
The August 2017 report on industry employment from the Louisiana Workforce Development Commission, however, pegs the number working in or supporting oil and gas at about 40,000 or 2 percent of Louisiana’s total workforce. It’s likely the API’s 2015 numbers were wildly inflated. Even Louisiana oil industry lobbyists acknowledge a sharp jobs downturn caused by slumping oil prices.
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