2011. Vol.1, No.3, 96-104
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.13012
Qualifying the Boom-Bust Paradigm: An Examination of the
off-Shore Oil and Gas Industry
Timothy C. Brown1, William B. Bankston2, Craig J. Forsyth3, Emily R. Berthelot4
1University of Houston, Houston, USA;
2Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA;
3University of Louisiana, Lafayette, USA;
4University of Houston-Downtown, Houston, USA.
Received March 23rd, 2011; revised April 27th, 2011; accepted May 31st, 2011.
The oil industry is seen as being similar to other mining activities in having a cycle of expansion and subsequent
contraction. Previous literature suggests this cycle leads to boomtown communities. Furthermore, the oil and gas
industry is often seen as a having primarily negative social effects on the communities it invades. The present
research takes an in-depth look at the small South Louisiana community of St. Mary Parish; an area with eco-
nomic roots in such extraction enterprises as lumber, fishing and later, oil. Positive attributes of the presence of
the oil and gas industry are identified, namely-sustainability and increased life chances of local residents. Due to
methodological limitations previous research might have been unable to holistically view the off-shore oil in-
dustries impacts on communities. This paper concludes that the paradigmatic usage of the NEPA boomtown
model is inapt for the study of the Gulf off-shore oil industry.
Keywords: Social Change, Boom-T own Model, Social Impact Assessment, Oil and Gas, Qualitative Research
The offshore oil industry is one of the largest industries in
the gulf area. Within 40 years of its inception, the industry pro-
vided direct employment to 41,798 residents of Louisiana. The
reach of the oil industry extends even farther than those under
direct employment. By 1981 the industry led to the creation of
over 80 thousand other jobs servicing the extraction of
off-shore oil (Tolbert II, 2006). With the majority of off-shore
oil leases belonging to Texas and Louisiana, the impact of this
industry on these states’ communities is unquestionable.
A great deal of academic interest has been aimed at the social,
cultural and economic impact of the oil and gas industry. Often
the oil and gas industry is seen as having negative social effects
within this literature. However, the present research was con-
ceived when an in depth inductive look was placed on the rela-
tively small South Louisiana community of St. Mary Parish. St.
Mary parish, with its economic roots in such extraction enter-
prises as lumber, fishing and presently oil, began to show a
positive attribute of the presence of the oil and gas indus-
try-sustainability. With its lumber exhausted, sugar cane farm-
ing delegated to South America, and the rise of Asian shrimp
markets, St. Mary parish likely would have experienced great
economic decline if it had not been for the development of
off-shore oil and gas and its associated service activities. How-
ever, this positive aspect of off-shore oil in this community has
often been unidentified in previous research. Due to methodo-
logical limitations previous research might have been unable to
holistically view the off-shore oil industries impacts on com-
munities. The use of social impact assessment models that were
designed to assess different forms of energy extraction might
have led to misleading results which might be avoided by util-
izing methodology more tailored to the off-shore oil industry.
The oil industry is similar to other mining activities in having
a cycle of expansion and contraction dependent on levels of
supply and demand. Previous literature suggests this cycle leads
to boomtown communities (Murdock et al., 1984; Summers &
Selvik, 1982). These boomtown communities witness explo-
sions of growth during the commissioning and extraction
phases. These phases are synonymous with population and
infrastructure growth. Typically, this growth is short lived and
when the extraction activity is decommissioned all positive
aspects fall to negative consequences. Whatever growth the
community witnessed is truncated. These communities witness
a vast outmigration of workers and infrastructure leaving them
often in economic decli ne.
Arguments towards the misuse of boomtown models to ex-
plain the off-shore oil industry have appeared in recent litera-
ture (Gramling & Brabant, 1986; Luton & Cluck, 2002). It is
argued that disparities exist between the boomtown model of
effects and the realities of the off-shore oil industry. The first
dramatic disparity is of the sheer size of the off-shore oil indus-
try in comparison to individual mining operations. Very little, if
any, of these mining operations encompassed areas as vast as
the gulf region. This is not only spatial in nature. The complex-
ity and number of separate industries involved in oil extraction
in the gulf dwarfs the majority of other energy extraction op-
erations. Furthermore, the time span of oil extraction in the gulf
has been over several decades and has not shown the finite
period of time usually identified in boomtown models.
The disparities between the boomtown model’s assumptions
and reality have lead to possible distortions in research findings.
The inherent tendency of this model to concentrate on the pro-
posed negative effects of energy extraction operations on
communities has led scholars to translate these negative out-
comes to communities where they might not necessarily fit. The
T. C. BROWN ET AL. 97
utilization of the boomtown model led to conclusions that the
industry was leading to ultimately negative economic and social
outcomes for community residents. Yet, from talking to com-
munity residents and leaders, it became clear this perception
was not shared by those in the community. This has led to a call
for a new technique in studying the social impact of the oil
industry, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico region.
This research aims to evaluate the effects of the off-shore oil
industry on the community in which it resides. But, this study
has several significant changes from previous research on this
topic. First, it was not committed to the use of a boomtown
model that may be ill fitted to identify long term industry ef-
fects. Rather it utilized a “diversity of effects” model that takes
into account the complexity of the off-shore oil industry and
those communities it inhabits. It was argued that research
should depart from the previous paradigmatic view of the na-
ture of gulf off-shore oil operations and utilize a model that
analytically splits the industry into different dimensions and
calls for research of these specific categories (Luton & Cluck,
2002). In particular, this research attempted to investigate the
social capital consequences of the off-shore oil industry for a
specific host community.
Second, this study used a qualitative methodological frame-
work with the goal of developing an in-depth-explanation of the
industry and its effects in terms of the experiences of those that
lived them. The majority of previous literature on this topic has
utilized quantitative methods. The use of qualitative methods
may lead to unique or possible new findings (Forsyth, Luthra, &
Bankston, 2007). In particular, the life history method is thought
to be important method to use when an area of study has grown
stagnant by virtue of its quantified detail (Becker, 1970).
Review of Literature
Consequences of Community Growth
Sociology has a long tradition of investigating the causes and
consequences of social change (Parsons & Shils, 1951; Toen-
nies, 1963). The positive or negative social impact of commu-
nity growth has long been pondered by sociologists since the
inception of the discipline. Spurred by the industrial revolution
many have investigated whether or not rapid growth is benefi-
cial for the communities experiencing it. Classic theorists, such
as Durkheim and Toennies, suggested that rapid growth may
result in substantial disruption for community members (Freu-
denburg, 1984). Durkheim posited that one possible outcome of
rapid growth is states of anomie felt by residents. This state of a
lowered normative consensus is brought upon by community
growth contributing to the individual’s world becoming more
complex and less predictable.
Contemporary social theory also comments on the role of so-
cial change on community outcomes. Shaw and McKay’s (1969)
theory of social disorganization states that societies (neighbor-
hoods more specifically) rely on a normative consensus on
common goals in order to regulate behavior. However, they
posit that social change, including growth, will undermine this
normative consensus and lead to negative communal outcomes.
Such variables as poverty, racial heterogeneity, and high levels
of mobility are posited to break down this normative consensus.
Similar research adds upon this theoretical model emphasiz-
ing the importance of residential stability on community cohe-
sion and ultimate ability to engage in informal social control
(Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974; Bursick & Grasmick, 1993)
The off-shore oil industry has brought about a tremendous
amount of change to the communities in which it resides. The
sheer mass of the industry has brought large in-migrations as
well as large exoduses from many communities. These com-
munities have been impacted and changed in a variety of ways.
Certain lines of sociological thought such as social disorganiza-
tion or the decline of community thesis would predict many
negative effects to bef al l these communities.
However, research on the effects of the off-shore oil industry
on communities in the gulf region has been divided. Some ar-
gue that the off-shore oil industry, like other extraction indus-
tries, will be detrimental to the region in the long run (Seydlitz,
Laska, Spain, Triche, & Bishop, 1993; Seydlitz, Jenkins et al.,
1995). Seydlitz et al. (1995) point to various literature that
suggest negative outcomes of the off-shore oil industry such as:
locals not benefiting from employment due to low levels of
human capital; increased strain on local infrastructure; elevated
unemployment rates and increases in poverty during the height
of mineral extraction.
While other literature indicates positive community effects of
the off-shore oil industry. Such positive effects as lowered de-
mands for welfare and food stamps, increased avenues for status
attainment and other positive economic situations have been
seen during the boom periods of extraction (Forsyth, Luthra, &
Bankston, 2007; Brabant, 1993). Another study discussed the
ability of the oil and gas industry to buffer communities under-
going industrial restructuring (Tolbert II, 2006).
Forsyth, Luthra and Bankston (2007: p. 297) found the vast
majority of respondents saw positive effects of the oil industry
on community growth. The individuals interviewed had devel-
oped specific caveats for acknowledging their convictions, but
very few of these individuals perceived the oil industry to be a
source of major disruption, and most saw the consequences as
being positive. They conclude if one takes the perspective that
the social construction of problems may be found in the process
of social actors creating causal stories involving blame or intent
and their image of consequences (Stone, 1989), their data sug-
gests a rather broad range of definitions of the effect of
off-shore development on community problems, with the most
typical interpretative themes offering an image of long-term
positive community gains.
A possible explanation for the disparity in the literature lies
in the model utilized by previous scholars to investigate growth
brought upon by the Gulf oil industry may be inappropriate
(Gramling & Brabant, 1986; Luton & Cluck, 2002). The fol-
lowing section will give a comprehensive review of the litera-
ture on the models utilized for social impact assessment re-
search dealing with off-shore oil extraction.
History of Social Impact Assessment and the Gulf’s
Offshore Oil Industry
Mineral extraction operations effects on communities have
been widely researched and criticized. However, research on
the socioeconomic effects of the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore
petroleum industry was relatively non-existent until the col-
lapse of petroleum prices in 1986.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was initi-
ated to identify, examine, and resolve adverse environmental
T. C. BROWN ET AL.
and socioeconomic consequences of government land actions
(Luton & Cluck, 2002). The Environmental Studies Program
(ESP) which is overseen by the Mineral Management Service
(MMS) funds research regarding the Outer Continental Shelf
(OCS) petroleum operations. Previous to 1986 little research
regarding socioeconomic effects of OCS was conducted. In-
stead research emphasized oceanographic and ecologic matters.
The reasoning for this decision was based on the argument that
the oil industry’s long history in the gulf and it’s well devel-
oped infrastructure and workforce would make social impacts
of offshore development difficult to identify.
However, after 1986 a new interest into the socioeconomic
effects of OCS operations developed. The 1986 collapse of
petroleum prices and more importantly its possible adverse
effects on surrounding communities fueled this interest. The
low volume of research by the ESP regarding the socioeco-
nomic component of OCS began to come under heavy criticism.
Scholars emphasized that the same 100 year history of industry
operations in the Gulf previously used to argue against socio-
economic research should be reevaluated and utilized to study
petroleum’s social and economic effect (Luton and Cluck 2002).
The pre-existing social impact assessment model, the NEPA
boomtown model, was used as a framework to study the Gulf’s
offshore petroleum industry (Seydlitz et al., 1993; Seydlitz &
Laska, 1994; Seydlitz et al., 1995).
Description of the Boomtown Model
The boomtown model was the first social impact assessment
model utilized in researching offshore petroleum extraction,
and for 20 years has been the predominate model used for en-
ergy-related projects. The boomtown model originated from
community impact studies conducted in the late 1970’s and
early 1980’s that addressed large, governmental regulated ex-
traction projects mostly in rural areas of the western United
States. (Gramling & Brabant, 1986).
The model was shaped by the shared characteristics and
situations recognized when large complex extraction projects
are constructed near small, rural, isolated, homogenous, agri-
cultural-based economies. Since these projects and the changes
they produced only existed for a limited amount of time within
the communities, they were referred to as boomtowns. The
typical lifespan of these projects would entail a short construc-
tion phase with high levels of employment and heavy demands
on the community and its infrastructure. Once the construction
was complete it would go into operation which lasted longer
than the construction yet demanded fewer and more specialized
workers. Lastly when extraction was complete a decommis-
sioning phase brought the close of the project (Gramling &
The labor demands of the projects were well beyond what the
community could supply. The small population of the rural
communities as well as the insufficient human capital of their
residents postulated that the majority of new jobs (esp. more
specialized and technical employment) would not be filled by
local residents. This shortage of capable workers led to a large
in-migration of workers into these rural communities. However,
this in-migration was followed by an out-migration of workers
from the community after completion of the decommissioning
phase (Gramling & Brabant, 1986; Seydlitz et al., 1995; Luton
& Cluck, 2002).
This labor demand and its consequential demographic effects
are crucial to the boomtown model. The rapid population
growth and later decline are illustrated by the model as the
primary cause of positive and negative economic; infrastruc-
tural; fiscal; and lastly social/cultural impacts occurring in these
rural communities due to the short presence of large extraction
projects. The models use of demographic effects as causal
mechanisms to social/cultural topics may not be as valid as the
other three impact categories because even though “these topics
do share one commonality; none fits easily into other classic
SIA impact categories because each has a complex and, often,
unclear or uncertain relationship to demographic change” (Lu-
ton & Cluck, 2002). While some of the social and cultural im-
pacts documented are positive, such as alternative pathways to
new social status introduced to residents, most of the impacts
are negative. These documented negative impacts are attributed
to the rapid in and out migration experienced within the com-
munities after the closure of the project in accordance with
social disorganization literature (Seydlitz et al., 1993, 1995).
Predominate use of the boomtown model in research dealing
with extraction based projects is argued by scholars to have
formulated a paradigm in literature (Gramling & Brabant, 1986;
Luton & Cluck, 2002). This argument suggests the possibility
that a coherent scientific tradition has been put in place that
leads the majority of research to narrowly focus on demo-
graphic and disruptive effects as causal variables for all impacts,
usually negative, seen within these communities (see Seydlitz
& Laska, 1994). It can be that the aforementioned demographic
effects are not seen throughout all communities where extrac-
tion based projects are initiated which negates the use of the
model in these areas. However, due to the paradigmatic effect
of the boomtown model many scholars still strive to use this
perspective in these areas even when it may not be appropriate
(Wilkinson, Thompson, Reynolds, & Ostresh, 1982).
Contrasts between the Boomtown Model and Gulf
Certain aspects highlighted by the boomtown model are ar-
gued incompatible with the Gulf’s petroleum industry. First,
other extraction industries are often fully dependent upon the
singular extraction company; however, the Gulf is inhabited by
various communities each hosting a different mix of oil-related
business. Off-shore extraction calls for platforms, exploratory
rigs, boats, among other equipment. This service industry leads
to a diverse geographically fixed labor force weakening any
tendencies to create boomtowns (Luton & Cluck, 2002). Fur-
thermore, this industrial diversification provides a safety net
when eventual ‘busts’ occur within the gulf oil industry
(Tolbert II, 2006). Some communities even fared better during
‘bust’ periods due to their service economies not being com-
pletely dependent upon extraction (Seydlitz & L a ska, 1995).
The exclusivity of the boomtown model reviewing projects
being introduced to small, rural, isolated areas also might be
unsuitable. Southern Louisiana’s off-shore oil industry began to
grow rapidly in the 1960’s. These demographic changes were
more complex than the simple construction phase of the boom-
town model would predict. Growth was not only seen in the
coastal parishes heavily involved with supporting offshore ac-
tivities but also in urbanized and industrialized areas due to real
economic growth driven in large part by the oil industry and
T. C. BROWN ET AL. 99
associated refining and petrochemical industries. The industry’s
demographic consequences had ceased to be the kind of local-
ized or community-centered phenomena addressed by boom
town model (Luton & Cluck, 2002).
The shortened time span model of the boomtown is also ar-
gued to be flawed when discussing the Gulf. This model looks
at projects as new and foreign to the community it enters.
However, in the Gulf the oil industry is decades old which has
made it familiar to the residents. Due to this long presence of
oil industries in the gulf, the region’s labor force has adapted to
the industry. Thus the industry’s technologies are familiar to the
rural population which allows rural residents to work in jobs
related to all phases of the industry. This is contrary to the
boomtown model’s predictions of rural residents only being
utilized during the construction phase.
Last, the boomtown model’s basis of looking at a single pro-
ject may not be applicable when researching the complex as-
sortment of petroleum related activity that occurs in the Gulf
region. Unlike boomtown models, the offshore oil “industry
does not appear in communities as something new with discrete
phases but rather as a continuation of business, and social and
economic effects related to changes in the magnitude and mix
of this commercial continuity” (Luton & Cluck, 2002: p. 17).
Alternative Paradigm for Social Impact Assessment
Based on Diversity of Effects
These arguments against the Boomtown models have
brought arguments for the use of a new strategy of measuring
impact (Innes & Booher, 2000; Jackson et al., 2004) which
incorporates the d i v e r s i t y of e f f ects that the gulf oil industry has
on communities (Luton & Cluck, 2002; Gramling & Brabant,
1986). The base of the argument states that even though com-
munities that are impacted by the Gulf oil industry are changing,
the industry is just one of many causes of most effects. Thus the
new strategy’s challenge is to identify the oil industry’s share of
impact on social change instead of being identified as the sole
cause as is dictated by boomtown models.
Due to the complexity of this challenge it is argued that the
strategy should begin by addressing each topic of effect sepa-
rately utilizing logic and findings from relevant academic fields
rather than the topic’s role in an a priori model (Luton & Cluck,
2002). This empirical approach is fostered with the aim of pro-
viding a more useful foundation on which to build future
monitoring and mitigation efforts.
A qualitative methodological framework was used for the
present research. The research was conducted in Morgan City,
Louisiana and nearby communities within St. Mary Parish.
Individual level data was collected using face to face interviews
with knowledgeable informants. A non-probability sample of
informants was obtained through snow ball sampling. The data
gathered was then analyzed through the use of analytic induc-
The research identified and interviewed key informants in the
Morgan City, Amelia, Patterson, Berwick, Bayou Vista, Frank-
lin, Lydia, Baldwin, and Charenton areas of Louisiana. Sam-
pling was varied across locales with extensive sampling in
some areas and less extensive in others. The area of Morgan
City was over sampl e d beca use it i s the large st ci ty in the pari sh
and historically has been the hub of the East St. Mary Parish
region and the industrial/oil center of the parish.
As Tolbert et al. (2002) notes community studies often util-
ize a non-probability design in aims of locating a more knowl-
edgeable sample. This is done because the sampling design is
preferable to probability sampling in small studies, especially
where the probability of selecting an element from the universe
that is knowledgeable on a certain issue is unknown. In this
case, the respondents were required to have some knowledge of
the oil industry in the area. The technique of snowball sampling
is utilized for this research. In this technique key members of
the population are selected and then asked to recommend others
for interviewing, and each of the subsequently interviewed
participants are asked for further recommendations which de-
velops an ever-increasing accumulation of subjects (Babbie,
2004). The initial sample size for the study was 175 respon-
dents interviewed. However after the data was cleaned and
unsatisfactory interviews were removed the final sample size
Snowball Sampling Pro cess
While snowball sampling is better suited to locate knowl-
edgeable informants when the population is not well known, it
does have limitations. One limitation lies in possible selection
bias on part of the respondents and researchers. In other words,
original respondents may choose individuals who have similar
opinion on the topic under study as themselves providing for a
very homogenous sample. Steps were taken to try to provide for
as heterogeneous of a sample as possible both demographically
as well as their relationship to the off-shore oil industry. The
sampling process started with members of the Morgan City
Historical Society and personal contacts in the community.
From this group a sample of over 100 individuals who have
long term familiarity with the community were obtained. Sub-
jects involved in civic, religious, educational, business, political,
and fraternal organizations were sought out to appropriately
answer what effects the petroleum industry had on the social
fabric and capital of the area. Since these groups tend to be
dominated by upper middle-class families and individuals,
methods were taken to attain greater class/occupational range in
the sample by including working class individuals/families in
the sample. The research also attempted to utilize sampling
methods to obtain informants from populations of specific in-
terests, particularly minorities, to determine their perceptions of
the long-term community impacts of the petroleum industry,
and their involvement in it. Other means were taken to provide
the most generalized sample frame as possible such as sampling
respondents from as large of a geographical span as possible.
Also, respondents were asked to name as many possible poten-
tial informants as they could and furthermore asking them to
provide subjects who do not work in the oil industry along with
those who do. The sampling process was terminated when
themes became salient and saturation had occurred.
1Incomplete interviews was the sole reason for the exclusion of the nineteen
interviews from the final sample.
T. C. BROWN ET AL.
Descriptive Statistics of Sample
The demographic layout of St. Mary parish presents a picture
from which one can compare the studies’ sample statistics. The
median age of St. Mary Parish residents is 34. The median age
for Morgan City is close at 36. Both St Mary Parish and Mor-
gan City according to the 2000 U.S. Census had populations
that were 52 percent female and 48 percent male. Morgan City
as well as the parish it resides it are predominantly white with
Morgan City showing 62 percent of its inhabitants as white and
71 percent for St. Mary Parish overall.
This sample differs from the population of St. Mary Parish in
age, sex and race. The demographic statistics are a little higher
for all categories. The mean age of the sample is 58 years old
with a standard deviation of 14 years. 68 percent of the infor-
mants in the sample are male and 92 percent of those are white.
The other 8 percent of the sample are African-American. Fur-
ther descriptive statistics of the sample include those respon-
dents who are natives to the area and if they are employed in
the oil industry, in any fashion. 30 percent of the respondents
were employed directly with the oil industry and 67 percent
were natives of the area. (Table 1)
Face to face interviewing was used to gather the respondent’s
familial history. These social biographies described how in-
ter-generational life experiences were affected by the oil indus-
try. Open ended focus interviews were conducted geared toward
constructing social biographies of individuals and their families
who have lived with and through the range of effects the impact
of oil has had. This method does pose problems since many
times during data collection unique topics appear that were not
anticipated early in the interview structuring process (Jacobs,
2000: p. 15). However, the semi structured element of the inter-
views allows for saturation of the research protocol through
enabling the researcher fluidity through the interview process.
Lastly, issues pertaining to the validity of respondent’s answers
are not foreseen to be a problem for this study based on the fact
that there will not be any controversial questions.
The face to face interviews consisted of discussions with in-
formants who were given direction by interviewers to discuss
topics regarding social mobility. Data was explored through the
use of “thick descriptions” (Geertz, 1973), letting the respondent s
speak for themselves, and summarizing their perceptions. These
conversations/interviews lasted an average of approximately
1.5 hours, and ranged from 45 minutes to 5 hours.
Descriptive statistics of sample.
N Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation
Age 156 24.00 92.00 58.2244 14.51876
(0 = Female;
1 = Male) 156 .00 1.00 .6795 .46818
(0 = non-white; 1 =
white) 156 .00 1.00 .9231 .26733
Native to the area
(0 = no; 1 = yes) 156 .00 1.00 .6731 .47060
(0 = no; 1 = yes) 156 .00 1.00 .3013 .46029
Valid N 156
The key difference that may separate the empirical reality of
the gulf oil industry from the communities described by boom-
town studies is the industrial diversification seen within many
of the areas dependent upon off-shore oil extraction. While
these communities are dependent upon the extraction of
off-shore oil they are not dependent upon one singular company.
Instead there is often a plethora of different businesses incor-
porated within the community.
36 year old, white male, fabrication industry: “I would say
that oil field and support service are still the majority employer
within the parish. Most people are either directly tied to it or
maybe one degree removed from being directly tied to the oil
field. That is still the biggest economic engine that we have in
Furthermore, as the above quote illustrates, these companies
often are locally owned and operated small sized firms which
service the oil field economy. This diversification has allowed
the communities to branch out and not be totally dependent
upon one particular company or even industry. This has subse-
quently led to an i ncrease d abili ty for communi ty sustai nabili ty.
The following quote from a prominent resident of the commu-
nity describes how the industrial nature of the area allows for
the community to not be fully dependent upon the status of one
industry or company.
54 year old, white male, newspaper editor: “I am all to
happy to run and get the copy of the paper that [was run] were
the entire front half of the front page was dedicated to an artist
rendering of the new multimillion dollar facility that [an oil
service company] is going to build on railroad avenue on the
water…There are other companies, service companies, that
have made long term commitments to the area also…I think
there is a lot more opportunity here now than there has been in
the last I will say 20 years. Another company that comes to
mind told me that by the end of next year it is not out of the
realm of possibilities that they will have over 400 people
working again. Maybe even possibly closer to 600 now that
they have purged themselves of an exclusive arrangement [with
a large oil company]. Which I thought was all their eggs in one
basket. They are going to start building back on the basics that
put them on the map.”
While the diverse nature of the industrial landscape is im-
portant to the sustainability of these communities what may be
more important, as the above respondent infers to, is the long
term commitment they have to the area. This has allowed
community residents to move up the economic ladder and be-
come influential assets to the industries previously not seen in
boomtown literature due to the shortened time span of the in-
79 year old, white male, retired oil field worker: “Locals
have been able to become the middle management of not only
the big oil industries but also the service companies. The local
community definitely has more wealth due to this.”
The addition of this lucrative industry had definite impacts
on the social economic status of local residents. The following
respondent discusses a very prominent time for the area eco-
nomically. He also highlights the common occurrence where
local residents were able to fully navigate the professional lad-
T. C. BROWN ET AL. 101
der of the incoming oil industry. Which further strengthens the
argument previously discussed that residents of this area, unlike
those of boomtown literature, were able to have long-term ca-
reers within the industry. Furthermore, he states that many were
able to open their own independent businesses.
62 year old, white male, city official: “[The] oil industry in
Louisiana has been very good to South Louisiana. At one time
there was the largest number of millionaires in South Louisiana
than anywhere else. The major industry in the area before oil
was the fishing and shrimping industry. A lot of the people who
had shrimp boats were contacted by the oil industry and turned
their boat into some type of oil supply boat. A lot of the people
that went into the oil business were in the shrimping business
originally. Many of these businesses grew from one boat to
fleets of crew boats.”
The presence of the industry had farther stretching positive
impacts on community residents than purely increased financial
opportunities. The establishment of a new middle class to the
area has brought about many positive impacts for community
residents that are still seen today and have not waivered during
the cyclical expansion and contraction of the industry. The
following section will highlight these impacts.
Consequences for Familial/Inter-Generational
Mobility and Status Attainment
The off-shore oil industry’s effect on levels of out migration
has been widely cited within the literature (Seydlitz et al., 1993,
1995). However, unlike previous literature the current research
implicates a positive connotation o f outmigration. The off-sh o re
oil industry brought new jobs to the area which had signifi-
cantly higher incomes than previous occupations present in the
area. This provided inhabitants a multitude of other career paths
and life choices to which their earlier relatives were not accus-
tomed. Our findings highlight that the industry’s presence al-
lowed for increased opportunities for residents’ intergenera-
tional mobility through such avenues as increased educational
and occupational opportunities. While often the negative as-
pects of out-migration on communities have been emphasized,
our findings suggest a positive long-term consequence on fam-
ily status attainment.
One outcome was increased avenues of social mobility than
were previously found in the area. Many subjects documented
this phenomenon especially when examining the social mobil-
ity of children of Morgan City and St. Mary Parish.
Interviewer: “How long has your family lived in the Mor-
gan City or St. Mary parish area?”
58 year old, white male, attorney: “Since 1881 and that
would be my paternal grandmothers family.”
Interviewer: “Do you know what type of work those grand-
58 year old, white male, attorney: “They were farmers.
They raised sugar cane, cotton, corn, and soy beans.”
Interviewer: “Do you know how much schooling they had?”
58 year old, white male, attorney: “Most of them were high
school graduates. Two of the female ancestors, my grandmother
and her sister had some college.”
Interviewer: “How much schooling have you had?”
58 year old, white male, attorney: “I am an attorney and I
have a degree in accounting. I worked on my masters in busi-
ness administration and received a law degree. I don’t know, a
lot of years.”
Interviewer: “Do you know what type of work your rela-
tives did and what type of schooling they had?”
44 year old, white female, administrative assistant: “I’ll
start with the grandparents. On my father’s side, none of them
had a real job. They trapped and fished, basically lived off the
land. [Respondent’s grandparents] never owned a car. I don’t
know if they went to school, I doubt it. Their son, who is my
father, he went to the 7th or 8th grade. Then he had to quit
school to help out with the trapping.”
Interviewer: “How much schooling have you had?”
44 year old, white female, administrative assistant: “[I]
graduated Morgan City High School in 1979. Married, stayed
home for 13 years. Went back to school, got my associates
degree. This was probably 8 years ago. [Works as an adminis-
trative assistant at an oil service comp any].”
Interviewer: “Do you have any children or grandchildren
that still live in the area?”
44 year old, white female, administrative assistant: “Ye s, I
have two children. I have a 23 year old son that also works for
[an oil service company]. He was a diver, he now works in La-
fayette. I have a 17 year old who is a senior at Central Catholic.”
These quotes give examples of a transition among the popu-
lation from relatively lower class occupations such as trapping
and farming to a more industrial job base. This transition
brought with it increased opportunities for social mobility of
the residents of the area. With this transition the area also wit-
nessed increases in levels of income, education, civic and social
organizations, and population (Brown, 2010).
Respondents also narrate residents becoming more aware of
diversified life choices during this time period. With increases
in education and income, many residents of Morgan City began
to broaden their career and social horizons. In the following
quote a respondent explains that residents became aware of
different experiences based on their interactions with newcom-
ers brought in by the off-shore oil industry.
53 year old, white female, environmental activist: “I think
that the [oil field] engineers and all brought in experiences that
the people of Morgan City didn’t have. I think that the resistance
to getting a job outside [of St. Mary Parish] was due to the lack
of a college education. I graduated first in my class; three of us
went to college. The rest of them, and this is not degrading, were
going to work on their fathers shrimp boats or the welding shops.
There wasn’t even a thought of going to college. So in order to
go work outside you need a college education. Now, more from
Morgan City attend [Nicholls State University] because Nicholls
at that time was just a day college and they ran the buses from
Morgan City. More from that area went but again the thought
was never to get an education and go somewhere else it was
always to get an education and come back; to teach school doing
education. And I think when those engineers came in they
brought life experiences into the mix that were not there.”
It was during this time that residents of Morgan City and sur-
rounding communities began to diversify many aspects of their
personal life. Many respondents cite a large portion of this new
phenomenon to be due to the presence of the off-shore oil indus-
try and more importantly its workers. The following quotes em-
phasize how respondents felt that the introduction of new work-
ers into the area brought with them a new set of “ideas” or cul-
ture from which the locals were able to expand their own.
T. C. BROWN ET AL.
Interviewer: “How did the community change after the dis-
covery of off shore oil?”
50 year old, white male, business owner: “It is my under-
standing, that it [Morgan City] was a relatively quiet fishing
and shrimping town until the offshore oil industry. It impacted
it greatly in the fact that Morgan City became a lot like Florida
is now, everyone was from somewhere else. You had a lot of
new comers. They set down some roots to where they are now
becoming the established citizens. But there were a lot of new
people that came down. Here everybody was from somewhere
else while at Franklin it has been pretty stable.
Interviewer: “What were these people like?”
50 year old, white male, business owner: “They were prot-
estant which was different. They were better traveled. One
thing that I have discovered with Louisiana in general is they
don’t travel. I think they brought in a lot of new ideas.”
52 year old, white male, business vice president: “The
pace of life increased. There was a huge influx of people that
were not from here. They brought new customs and ideas. It
really changed the way of life here.”
57 year old, white male, police officer: “I would say proba-
bly dramatically. You had people coming in from all areas and
that goes on today. People come down here for work. The east
end [Morgan City] of the parish obviously has a large transient
population. You will find people that have been there for 30
years but they have come there from Mississippi, Arkansas, or
Texas. It changes the population especially on the east end of
the parish. You have a more diversified people.”
The following quote illustrates a couple of different themes
of how the area changed due to the introduction of the off-shore
oil industry. The first of which highlights the adoption of new
goals by locals. They felt that they had increased opportunity
with the emergence of the new industry. Secondly, how new
opportunities allowed for intergenerational mobility. While as
previous social stratification in the area showed little variation
over generations, the introduction of this industry introduced
and reinforced a middle class to this area that was up to that
point scarcely seen in the area.
Interviewer: “Were people more able to easily obtain per-
sonal goals now or before the oil industry?”
58 year old, white male, oil company worker: “After the
oil industry because they had more money. I don’t know what
your goal is, if your goal is to drink enough beer to put you to
sleep and keep you sleeping until you wake up whenever you
want to, then that’s a goal. But if your goal is to give to your
children more chances that were offered to you then unless you
were a very successful cane farmer, shrimp boat owner, or had
a real good trapping lease that was not a possibility. The whole
level of what peoples’ expectations and goals were changed
once the money came. Now the [prominent family] always had
money …You had the real rich and the real poor. So either you
owned the cane being farmed or you were going out there with
a knife to cut it. Either you owned the boat or you were a deck-
hand. There was no middle class, when the oil company came
in the middle class was bigger than both and some of the mid-
dle class really became very wealthy after a little while.”
The outmigration from the area is not viewed as detrimental
by community residents but one of increased opportunities pro-
viding the ability for individuals to move away from the area if
Discussion and Conclusion
As noted at the beginning of this article one of the industrial
features of oil and gas extraction is its cycle of expansion and
contraction in supply and demand. It has been suggested this
pattern is analogous to boomtowns. While this may be the case
for western boomtowns, the social history of Morgan City and
the nearby communities of St. Mary Parish indicate otherwise.
The boomtown model does not seem to be applicable to off-
shore oil. If one looks at company/mining towns of the western
United States, the concept appears to be relevant. The towns
were created due to the emergence of the industry and then
subsequently disappeared or nearly did at the completion of
extraction. Hence, the term “ghost town” is a feature of the
west. Conversely, there are no such created “company towns”
and/or abandoned places associated with offshore oil develop-
ment. The demand for offshore oil has never stopped. This
demand has moved up and down over the short run and up over
the long term. But the ideology that pervades the oil industry
and the community is that the industry will return because the
demand is always there. Oil, like many othe r industries and the
jobs associated with it, has varying demand overtime. Members
of the community have learned to persist in this cycle. This
unsettled character is an expected characteristic of the industry
(Luton & Cluck, 2002; Forsyth & Gauthier, 1991).
Furthermore, the negative outcomes of boomtown literature
were not found in this research. The positive benefits to the area
have remained in the area. The local community was able to
adapt and incorporate themselves within the industry. This
fostered a middle class that still exists in the community today.
Along with these positive economic benefits came increased
aspirations for the local residents. These diversified worldviews
have remained among the community residents.
These individuals experienced greater intergenerational mo-
bility through increased educational and occupational opportuni-
ties. The industry brought newcomers to the area who were not
appeased by the educational system in place. These individuals,
along with locals in the community, asked for curriculum addi-
tions. They joined the PTA and through their interaction in it
demanded such curricula as Geometry, Calculus, and Fine Art to
be offered within the local school system. Secondary education
in the area was also positively affected by the industry. Industry
leaders were big players in the introduction of a college to the
area. This college did not only offer classes specifically for the
oil industry but also general education as well.
It was not only throu gh increased educational outlets that resi-
dents of the area perceived increased mobility. Respondents il-
lustrated a sense of increased goals and opportunities for them-
selves as well as others. One way this came through was from
direct association with employment in the industry. A theme
emerged dictating that this industry infused the area with a mid-
dle class. However, residents also illustrated a perception of in-
creased worldviews during this time directly attributed to the
introduction of a very heterogeneous group to the community.
They state the incoming population brought with it diversity and
different lifestyles. Many respondents were introduced to new
ways of viewing the world during this time. Many individuals
had never thought of college or traveling and became introduced
to them through their interactions with the newcomers.
However, one cannot assume the everlasting presence of oil.
T. C. BROWN ET AL. 103
It is true that the off-shore oil industry has a longer time hori-
zon than the ordinary mining industry. However, eventually on
a long enough time frame the oil reserves will be depleted.
Even before depletion alternate sources of energy or environ-
mental concerns may halt the industry. This could provide for a
scenario where socio-economic life in these communities will
deteriorate due to a shutdown of the oil industry. Other research
seems to lead to a more positive future (Brown, 2010). These
communities are not solely reliant upon the off-shore oil indus-
try as seen in many previous western energy extraction towns.
The extraction of off-shore petroleum requires extensive ser-
vice industries which employs and gives livelihoods to many
local residents (Doeren, 1978: p. 32). Such companies as sup-
ply houses, rental tool companies, oil sale firms, mud compa-
nies, truck lines, marine and offshore equipment repair compa-
nies and shipyards, all have profited from a symbiotic relation-
ship with oil. These service industries which are primarily lo-
cally owned and operated provide for a diversified economy
that might be better suited to sustain after the oil industry
ceases to dominate the economic landscape.
Limitations of Current Research and Implications for
The qualitative nature of the current research of course limits
the generalizable nature of the findings. However, the research
aimed to counter this aspect of qualitative research by acquiring a
large and heterogeneous sample that occupied a fairly large spa-
tial area. With that said the findings could be distinct to the area.
Thus, future qualitative research utilizing a diversity of effects
model should be establi shed to decipher if t hese re sults are found
in other communities within the off-shore oil and gas industry.
Also, past research which has looked at community resi-
dent’s attitudes towards industries which dominate the local
economic sector have often found pervasive social support to
the industry regardless of its positive or negative social or en-
vironmental effects (Altman, Rosenquist et al., 2000). The re-
spondents may have biased viewpoints towards the oil and gas
industry due to the vast presence it has within their community.
They may in turn be more likely to overlook the negative ef-
fects of the industry. Furthermore, due to their own personal
incentive for the continuation of the industry and their relation-
ship with it they may embellish the positive nature of the in-
dustry. Future research should utilize both qualitative and quan-
titative methodology to address this issue of possible sample
bias. Future research could focus on a random sample of re-
spondents who are not related either directly or indirectly with
the off-shore oil industry and examine their attitudes towards it.
These findings can then be compared to those within the oil
industry to look for contradictions or agreements.
The sample of this study can also be seen as a possible limi-
tation of the research. While steps were taken to provide as
generalizable of a sample as possible to the surrounding popu-
lation this is often a weakness of qualitative methodology. Fu-
ture research could utilize such non-probability sampling as
quota sampling to address this issue. Quantitative measuring
techniques could also be employed.
Another consideration that needs to be addressed in future
research is current crises with the off-shore oil and gas industry.
The recent gulf oil disaster which witnessed the horrifying ex-
plosion of an off-shore well and subsequent leak of billions of
gallons of oil into the gulf may alter many of the current resi-
dent’s perceptions of the industries long-term effects to the
environment as well as their community. This event may have
significant effect on future research findings on those living in
affected and non affected areas.
The last major constraint of this study is it significantly low
African American sample. The data indicate that African
Americans have experienced a very different effect from the
offshore oil industry. First, no Africans Americans who had
established service companies seemed to benefit from the ex-
pansion of OCS activity. Second, few Africans Americans at-
tained supervisory level positions and those that did were often
later demoted as the oil industry exchanged hands. For instance,
in one such case a man was promoted when newcomers came
in and demoted with newcomers left. Third, some had no rec-
ognition or experiences with a boom/bust cycle. Things did not
get better or worse, indeed their experiences seemed flat. Last,
it seems as if few African Americans migrated to the area. Dur-
ing the last several decades Blacks have made progress moving
into jobs traditionally reserved for whites. Barriers have been
removed and racial differences in the occupations of employed
men have substantially decreased, and among women, a con-
tinuation of recent trends implies an elimination of racial dif-
ferences in occupations. Such sweeping generalizations may
not describe experiences within particular sectors of oil field
employment. The findings within this population suggest a
specific need to revisit this research. Further study should ex-
amine more systematically the degree to which the substantial
fluctuations in the economic environment of South Louisiana’s
oil patch has interacted with or influenced social biographies
and social change among African Americans.
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