Filed Under:  Gulf Coast, Local, News, Politics

Big oil attempts to duck enviro damage

7th May 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

While public attention has focused on education and retirement issues in this year’s legislative session, often ignored are a series of bills that could redefine the relationship between Louisiana landowners and the oil and gas companies that drill the huge finds of natural gas and oil throughout the state.

The issue has been dubbed “Legacy Lawsuits.” And, the fight turns this week to the State Senate, where SB 731 will come up for debate.

It is critical that this bill passes, explains LouisianaTruth.org spokesperson Cheron Brylski. “Major oil and gas companies will continue to feel no pressure to clean up pollute lands and waters that they intentional, deliberately, and negligently have left in Louisiana. In short, if these companies really wanted these hazardous sites cleaned up, they would have done it along time ago!”

“They haven’t and they will not unless there is a legal and administrative compulsion for them to do so. Further, since Louisiana is experiencing a new boom in exploration thanks to the Haynesville and Tuscaloosa land finds, these companies seek the unfettered processes of the past to exploit these lands rather than follow environmental rules and regulations. In other words, there will be an even greater problem in the future unless we hold them accountable. Senate Bill 713 simply states that those who made the mess, endangered drinking water, and destroyed land should be responsible for the clean up, not the taxpayers of Louisiana.”

However, The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) has put forth independent research, in the form of an LSU study, to back its claim that holding oil and gas companies responsible for the cleanup of environmental damage inflicted during exploration and production operations is depressing Louisiana’s energy sector. Several legislators are sponsoring bills that would effectively give Big Oil a pass on previous environmental damage , out of worries that a series of lawsuits would endanger jobs.

Brylski, in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, countered, “A short term cost-benefit analysis is simply inapplicable in this situation. The cost to the state over the last eight decades has been enormous. The Chico Aquifer in Southwest Louisiana is under environmental stress due to these activities, groundwater stress has been adjudicated in Northwest Louisiana, and concern is now being expressed about the extraordinary aquifer that supplies the drinking water for East Baton Rouge Parish.”

“In Cameron Parish, hundreds, if not thousands, of acres have been lost due to hazardous waste residue from lack of environmental enforcement. Vermillion Parish is currently experiencing serious problems on school board lands. As to landowners per se, one simply cannot put a price on radioactivity and hazardous chemicals left on one’s land only to be discovered 30 years later or on the experience of homeowners discovering they are living over or near a site of hazardous material buried decades before by oil and gas majors.”

“In numerous internal memos of major oil companies allowed as evidence in a number of trials, it is clear the major oil and gas companies made a simple cost benefit analysis: it will cost more to clean it up than to cover it up…get the oil, leave the waste, and hope we never get called to task!”

Civic activist Mike Stagg added that LOGA has overstated the economic impact as well. “Unfortunately, the report LOGA has pitched, titled ‘The Impact of Legacy Lawsuits’ by David Dismukes, is little more than industry propaganda disguised as objective academic analysis.”

“In a March 2 statement, LOGA President and lobbyist Don Briggs cited the work of the lead policy analyst at the LSU Center for Energy Studies (CES) to substantiate LOGA’s claim that legacy lawsuits are depressing the growth of the Louisiana oil and gas sector. Dr. Dismukes produced a 62-slide presentation on February 28 that served as the basis for Briggs’ comments.”

“Dismukes, who also serves as associate director of LSU CES, charged in his slide show that legacy lawsuits cost the state 1,200 wells and ‘total statewide revenue of about $6.8 billion in lost drilling investments’ over the past eight years. To produce those numbers, Dr. Dismukes frames his arguments around a seven-year-old poll of oil and gas industry leaders on legacy lawsuits which was commissioned and paid for by LOGA.”

“Thus Dismukes’ negative assessment is not surprising in light of the tight bonds between the industry, Dr. Dismukes and LSU CES, where he works. The LSU CES Advisory Council is comprised exclusively of representatives of the energy industry and its lobbyists, including Mr. Briggs and LOGA. The close relationship between the Center and the industry calls into question the objectivity of Dr. Dismukes’ work.”

SB 731 effectively would protect the right for Louisiana residents to seek legal redress. Other competing bills, most notably HB 681 (currently stuck in committee), Brylski argued, would shield the industry from lawsuits.

Regardless, the LouisianaTruth.org spokeswoman expressed her belief that should SB 731 pass the Senate next week, the Governor will sign it into law. “Governor Bobby Jindal has consistently stated throughout the process that he will sign a bill that meets his two goals: hold the party responsible who destroyed the land and/or water and protect the independents who found themselves having to indemnify major oil companies from liability in order to do business. This is what Senator Allain’s bill does.”

This article was originally published in the May 7, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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