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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


A regional event, for now

In the short term, the Gulf oil spill has largely been a regional economic event. Gulf area aquaculture and tourism businesses have been affected, but for the spill to have national implications, the energy and transportation sectors would have to be interrupted. So far, energy production has not been disrupted and shipping facilities remain open and are operating normally.

Any interruption in oil production, imports or both would have a significant impact on supply. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Louisiana produces 1.4 million barrels per day of crude oil (2010 average to date), accounting for 27 percent of all U.S. crude oil production. Each day, 6.1 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products (2010 average to date) enter the country through the Gulf Coast, accounting for 48 percent of all U.S. crude and petroleum product imports.

An extension of the moratorium on new deepwater drilling has not affected prices. However, David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors pointed out in Part 6 of his "Oil Slickonomics" commentary that the longer-term implications of the oil spill hold important price influences.

"Our expectation is that the oil business is about to enter a period of intense scrutiny and regulation worldwide. It will confront higher cost structures and much more inspection and regulation. This will eventually be reflected in higher oil prices."

According to data from the Port of New Orleans, the Mississippi River remains open to maritime traffic, and no ship calls have been canceled because of the spill. Port statistics show that about 500 million tons of cargo passes through the Mississippi each year, and more than 6,000 ocean vessels annually move through New Orleans on the Mississippi River. Any disruption to these facilities would have an impact beyond the port as the flow of goods reaches well beyond Louisiana.

Of course, the longer the spill goes unabated, the greater the chances that the oil production and imports could be affected and port activity could be influenced. The opportunity for the oil slick to spread throughout the Gulf also increases daily, as do the chances that it may move out of the Gulf and up the East Coast. In terms of the geography affected by such events, the regional nature of the Gulf oil spill will become more national in proportion.

By Michael Chriszt, assistant vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s research department