The oil and gas industry, one of the most powerful and profitable sectors of the world economy, continues to fight fervently against being held responsible for the significant damage it has caused to Louisiana’s coast and wetlands.
At least 34 scientific studies, including studies done by the oil and gas industry itself and dating back as far as 1971, conclude that oil and gas activities contributed to Louisiana’s coastal land loss. In 1985 a study commissioned by Louisiana Mid-Continental Oil and Gas Association concluded that oil and gas activities contributed to coastal land loss. The other studies were conducted by the likes of US Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana Geological Survey, LSU Center for Wetland Resources, Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority, and a number of other federal agencies and private engineering firms. Many of the studies concluded that the majority of the land loss in some areas, as much as 80%, is due to oil and gas activities.
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The State of Louisiana knows this. A study commissioned by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources in 2006 concluded, “[t]he dominant mechanism for land loss in the identified restoration areas was altered hydrology associated with oil and gas exploration and drilling (64 percent). The second largest process contributing to land loss was the direct removal of wetlands during the dredging of exploratory canals and wellhead access canals (12 percent).” There are a number of other studies done by the State of Louisiana that make similar conclusions.
The big oil and gas companies know this, too. Shell Oil Company’s chief offshore engineer said, “[t]here is clear evidence that past and current oil and gas activities have made and continue to make substantial contributions to degradations in the natural defenses against hurricane surges and waves in coastal Louisiana,” and that oil and gas “works and activities have contributed significantly to the loss of natural defenses such as barrier beaches, wetlands, and marshes.”
And yet, the oil and gas companies refuse to take responsibility for it and the State of Louisiana lets them.
But, I know what you are thinking, “when they did this they weren’t breaking the law, they didn’t know any better!” Well, that is simply not true. Federal and state laws dating back as far as the 1920s prohibit oil and gas activities from damaging the land. Furthermore, in 1980 Louisiana enacted laws which clearly state that the land must be cleaned up and returned to it’s previous condition after oil and gas activities are completed. On top of that, the oil and gas drilling permits issued by the State of Louisiana also require the permit holder to return the affected area to its previous condition. Much of the damage done by oil and gas exploration and production is in clear violation of the law and the oil and gas industry knew it.
Through these illegal activities, the oil and gas industry has caused a tremendous amount of damage to Louisiana. And not only is the Louisiana State Government not holding the industry responsible, it has actively helped the industry evade responsibility.
Unlike most of the rest of the United States, Louisiana has significant oil and gas resources. The oil and gas industry has made huge amounts of money over the years extracting oil and gas from under Louisiana. And yet Louisiana has one of the highest poverty rates, has the least government services, and has a budget crisis which recurs every year and renders Louisiana one of the poorest states. The oil and gas industry simply has not treated Louisiana fairly, nor with respect or common decency. We only ask that they treat the place that allowed them to be successful with respect and if they break something that they fix it. Oil and gas activity has broken many of our wetlands and the oil and gas companies should fix what they have broken. It’s not asking much.
It is also clear from a legal standpoint: regulations and laws were broken, and law breakers should be held accountable.
To add insult to injury, if the oil and gas industry doesn’t pay to fix what THEY broke, YOU are going to pay to fix what they broke; in fact you already are. The State of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is already budgeting hundreds of millions of dollars for projects to repair damage from oil and gas activities. Those are Louisiana state tax dollars being spent to repair damage caused by very wealthy private companies. Meanwhile, the State is cutting LSU’s budget, shutting down public defenders’ offices, and closing public healthcare facilities. This outrages us, and it should outrage you, too.
Because the oil and gas industry refuses to take responsibility for the damage it has done, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE), Plaquemines Parish, Jefferson Parish, and Cameron Parish have all filed lawsuits to allow the judicial system decide what responsibility oil and gas companies have for fixing the damage they caused. Oil and gas has been fighting hard against these suits and getting their friends in the State Government to help them.
In 2014, thirteen bills were submitted to the Legislature in an effort to kill the SLFPAE lawsuit. Only one of the bills made its way through the Legislature, but it was deemed inapplicable to the SLFPAE and unconstitutional on three separate grounds. The SLFPAE lawsuit is currently alive and well in the Fifth Circuit.
Plaquemines Parish filed 21 lawsuits in 2012, but a backlash from the oil and gas industry led to those lawsuits being dropped on November 12, 2015 with a five-to-one vote of the Parish Council. At the same time, Jefferson Parish filed seven lawsuits which are pending. In early February of 2016, Cameron Parish filed its own lawsuit and the parish is already facing great pressure from oil and gas to drop the suit.
A meeting of the Cameron Parish Police Jury held on Tuesday March 1, 2016, included time for the public to comment on the Police Jury’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies. The Police Jury meetings take place at 10:00 a.m. on weekdays. It has been our experience that companies which want to influence officials at public meetings will give employees time off to attend the public meetings. Meanwhile, the general public is unable to take off of work or skip out on other responsibilities to attend the meetings scheduled in the middle of a work day. As a result, the small Police Jury room at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday was filled to the brim, but only with workers from the oil and gas industry. It is imperative that our elected officials hear from all of us, not just those in business and industry – but the public voice remains stifled.
The arguments given by those individuals who were asking the Police Jury to stop the lawsuit were the same false arguments always given: ”the oil and gas industry is necessary for jobs and economic growth,” and “if you sue the industry, it will leave, we will all lose our jobs, and the parish will go broke.” We cannot let the oil and gas industry hijack our government, by holding us hostage with threats of picking up their toys and leaving if they don’t get what they want.
Currently, these lawsuits are the only mechanism that can force the oil and gas industry to fix the damage it caused—damage that robs us of natural resources and puts our communities at risk. These lawsuits are the only hope of bringing some justice to the citizens of Louisiana.
If you would like to have an even bigger impact you can easily do so by contacting the Cameron Parish Police Jury and/or the Jefferson Parish Council and encouraging them to stick with the lawsuits. You can also contact Governor John Bel Edwards and encourage him to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for the damage it has caused to Louisiana.
- Contact the Cameron Parish Police Jury through this web form: http://www.parishofcameron.net/email-us
- Get the Jefferson Parish Council contact information here: http://www.jeffparish.net/index.aspx?page=2921
- Contact Governor John Bel Edwards through this web form: http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/form/home/4
Here is a sample letter you can craft into your own – a personalized letter is always most impactful:
Land loss is the single greatest threat our Louisiana coastal communities face. It is already destroying communities like Pointe Aux Chenes and Leeville. The evidence is clear, as it has been for decades, that the oil and gas industry is responsible for a significant portion of that land loss. It is only fair and decent that the oil and gas industry fix the damage it is responsible for and that the laws of Louisiana are upheld. The oil and gas industry made huge profits from the activities they undertook in and around our communities. Requiring it to fix the damage it caused is not asking too much. I support your lawsuits and applaud your courage. Please continue to hold accountable those that have damaged our land.