Legislation aimed at reforming 'legacy sites' fails in Louisiana legislature

Alejandro de los Rios May 23, 2011, 8:49am


A proposal to change a 2006 Louisiana law which oil executives claim has created "a tremendous burden" on the industry because of resulting lawsuits has failed to advance in the state legislature.

State Rep. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) introduced legislation that would have amended Act 312, which allowed local courts to place fault when it came to oil contamination before a cleanup plan was put in place.

Cortez's proposed bill was struck down in the House Natural Resources Committee in a 10-7 vote that fell on partisan lines. Republicans and Democrats were split on the vote.

At a press conference in Baton Rouge on May 11, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs said the law was creating a hostile legal environment for oil companies.

Briggs said lawsuits stemming from "legacy sites" - where landowners lease land to oil companies for drilling - can last for several years and hinder growth in the industry.

Briggs pointed to a 2003 lawsuit where the plaintiff was awarded $54 million for oil contamination to land worth just over $100,000. The plaintiff had leased the land to oil companies to aid in offshore drilling.

Governor Bobby Jindal's former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, has come out against the bill, saying that oil companies are just seeking to shield themselves from the liability of cleanup costs from oil spills.

In an editorial written for the Record and which also appeared in the Lafourche Parish Daily Comet, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) Director Melissa Landry was critical of "legacy" lawsuits.

The lawsuits, Landry wrote, "are supposed to help clean up the environment from damage that may have occurred years or decades ago."

"But the only real impact they're having is slowing down oil production at a time when we need it most," she wrote. "According to the state's independent oil producers association, this is largely due to the fact that our existing laws make Louisiana very attractive to some personal injury lawyers and a great place to play the legacy lawsuit "lottery.""

U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) had backed the new state legislation seeking to curb legacy suits. In a statement, he said he's "very concerned" with how the lawsuits could hinder the energy industry in Louisiana.

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