LSU’s Louisiana Geological Survey office touted the potential of Tuscaloosa Marine Shale in the Baton Rouge region and central Louisiana more than a decade ago.
That energy boom may be about to take off. But the Louisiana Geological Survey is on the verge of losing all its state funding.
The Geological Survey is one of several victims of LSU’s efforts to protect its academic core during budget cuts.
LSU officials are slicing the funding for ancillary units, such as LSU museums, the LSU Press and the Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said all of the university’s ancillary units must boost their self-generated revenues in order to protect what state government funding is available for the overall student experience.
“We all have to work toward greater self-sufficiency in all of these areas,” Martin said.
The final determination of what gets cut and by how much is still being worked out. Final decisions are not due until the end of the month. But general directions are being discussed now.
The geological survey was informed its entire $1 million LSU budget will be phased out over three years, starting next month.
Martin said the geological survey must become more successful in acquiring and operating off of federal and industry grants and contracts.
Chacko John, the Louisiana Geological Survey director and state geologist, said the agency is in a very “difficult situation.”
“We do our work quietly and without much fanfare, and that might be part of the reason,” John said of why the office may have been targeted.
The geological survey conducts oil-and-gas and environmental research, as well as state mapping for energy exploration and coastal protection. The agency operates on a lot of external contracts, John said, but that is not enough.
“We do need a certain base amount of funding to even apply for some of these (external) funds, because a lot of them require matches,” John said. “Right now, we are at a critical mass of staff.”
The survey’s Texas counterparts have about 100 employees and a $20 million budget, John said, compared to 17 people in Louisiana.
Citing the successful Haynesville Shale in northern Louisiana, John said his office is studying for potential water contamination from the controversial hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process of oil drilling. There is no such contamination evidence now, he said, but the same method also will be used with the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.
The LSU budget is due to the LSU System on July 29, but it will not be finalized by the LSU Board of Supervisors until August.
LSU’s budget is essentially flat from last year, because student tuition hikes offset most of the budget cuts. But LSU is projecting $20 million in new costs on unfunded mandates like employee retirement and benefits.
“Right now we’re still in the discovery phase,” Martin said of finalizing the budget.
Martin credited the LSU Rural Life Museum with boosting its self-generated revenues by hosting a lot more of non-LSU events and parties.
But he cited the LSU Press, the Southern Review literary journal, CAMD, the LSU Museum of Art and the Louisiana Museum of Natural History as others areas where the current state funding is not sustainable.
Some officials, like LSU Press Director MaryKatherine Callaway, are declining to comment until cuts are finalized.
But CAMD interim Director Richard Kurtz believes life will go on as long as new cuts are not too devastating.
“We’ve had major financial cuts and we’re at about half of our staff,” Kurtz said. “We do expect some more cuts. We don’t know the magnitude of them.”
The CAMD facility features the only giant synchrotron light source of its kind in the South. It works by generating electrons as giant magnets swing in a circle to create energy beams, such as X-rays. Those are used in everything from nanofabrication of targeted drug delivery for cancer to the improvement of alternative energy sources.
CAMD’s budget has already been cut by more than 40 percent and now sits at just more than $3 million.
CAMD has already begun to rely more on federal grants and likely will begin charging research users for utilizing the facility, Kurtz said. Once described as having “24-7” operations, Kurtz said, CAMD is now operating roughly 10 hours a day for eight workdays every two weeks.
Following LSU’s marching orders, the external grants operating at CAMD have actually grown from about $7.5 million a couple years ago to $16 million now.
“Operations have been pretty smooth, considering,” Kurtz said.