Oil & gas firms off the hook for destruction of Louisiana coast – judge

Reuters / Sean Gardner

Reuters / Sean Gardner

A federal judge has ruled that multinational energy corporations are not financially liable for erosion of Louisiana’s wetlands, 1,900 square miles of which have been lost since the 1930s. Industry admits to being responsible for 36 percent of that loss.

US District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed Friday a
lawsuit filed in 2013 by the New Orleans-based Southeast
Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas
companies for deterioration of the state’s coastal wetlands.

The lawsuit sought $50 billion in restoration compensation for an
erosion process that the US Interior Department said is anywhere
from 15-59 percent the responsibility of industry. Drilling
operations have carved about 10,000 miles of canals through the
state’s coastal marshes and swamps, according to the Associated

Industry, meanwhile, has
to 36 percent of the wetland erosion.

Judge Brown said federal and state laws did not offer a legal
avenue for the levee authority to bring the suit to fruition. The
Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is one of two
regional boards the state established after 2005’s Hurricane
Katrina to protect New Orleans.

Brown added that the levees protected by the regional authority
were either too far from or not sufficiently affected by damage
done from energy drilling. She said that the levee authority did
not have the right to sue based on permits issued by the state or
the US Army Corps of Engineers that gave the companies permission
to drill.

Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Shell, Chevron and BP, three of
the big defendants in the suit, said in a statement: “We are
gratified by this ruling to dismiss this ill-conceived, unwise
and divisive litigation, which we have contended all along was
nothing more than an attempt to subvert the existing legal and
regulatory processes.”

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East said it
planned to appeal the decision.

“We’re disappointed with the ruling, but I think it was
always clear this wouldn’t be resolved in the district
said Jim Swanson, the authority’s attorney. “I
don’t think this is the final word on this subject.”

According to
the US Geological Survey, the state’s coastal wetlands are in
danger of disappearing within the next 200 years. Amid climate
change, the state has seen its sea level rise about twice as fast
as the global rate in the last 50 years,
to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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Last June, industry-friendly Gov. Bobby Jindal signed
that aimed to block the lawsuit before its
hearing in court.
In October,
the bill was deemed unconstitutional by a state

Industry and its supporters have called the lawsuit an
unprecedented attack on energy exploration by a “rogue agency
… trying to raise money through illegal actions,”
Senators Robert Adley and Bret Allain last year after they
sponsored the legislation Jindal signed in June.

“We appreciate the judge’s ruling and are pleased that this
frivolous lawsuit has come to an end,”
said Jindal
spokeswoman Shannon Bates Dirmann of the latest ruling.
“We’ve maintained that this was not a claim SLPFA had the
authority to bring, and we are glad the court agreed.”

John Barry, a former official with the levee authority, has
the suit is simply an effort to get companies to pay for the
havoc they are responsible for initiating.

“We are looking to the industry to fix the part of the
problem that they created,”
he said. “We’re not asking
them to fix everything. We only want them to address the part of
the problem that they created.”

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