Oil companies are ignoring environmental laws

The Louisiana Record Dec. 19, 2011, 6:41am

To the Editor:

I read with interest the published letter from Melissa Landry dated December 15, which made the ludicrous claim that landowners rather than oil companies are causing the delays in the clean-up of oilfield contamination.

Your readers may naturally be skeptical of why landowners would want to delay or avoid the clean up of their property. They may also be understandably skeptical of any suggestion that the oil companies really want to clean up their messes across Louisiana, but are somehow being prevented from doing so. However, in the event that anyone accepted Ms. Landry's false claims at face value, I think it is important to set the record straight.

First, your readers need to be aware that Ms. Landry is employed by an organization that is funded by oil interests. The fact that she doesn't admit that up front in her numerous propaganda pieces is very revealing. Pretending to be something you are not is usually a telltale sign of a hidden agenda.

Second, Ms. Landry's claim that our environmental laws are being abused is correct but it's the oil companies, not innocent landowners, who are abusing them. Indeed, the oil companies have been ignoring our environmental laws ever since the first statute prohibiting oilfield waste was passed in 1906.

There have been no less than three federal governmental reports—in 1977, 1989, and most recently this month—that have criticized Louisiana and other states for their lax regulatory enforcement. Louisiana ranks near the bottom of the bottom in this unflattering category. And the EPA recognized in its most recent report that the reason was because our government protects the very industry it is supposed to regulate.

There are thousands of abandoned well sites across Louisiana that were never properly plugged and abandoned, much less cleaned up. The state refers to them as "orphaned" well sites. In fact, our state has become a "dumping ground" for the oil interests, who exploit our valuable resources but don't take responsibility for the messes they make while doing so. This has forced landowners to file lawsuits. Instead of cleaning up their messes, the guilty oilfield operators hire lawyers and publicists like Ms. Landry to shift the blame to the innocent landowners whose property they abandoned in a badly contaminated state.

As a lawyer who has represented landowners in these cases for over twenty years, I can assure you that every one of these lawsuits has arisen because oilfield operators have left the landowners' property in a mess and have refused to clean it up. The easiest way for an oil company to avoid being sued for contamination is either not to contaminate or to clean up whatever contamination they cause. When they refuse to do either, they force the innocent landowner to file a lawsuit.

Ms. Landry's complaint about delays in litigation is equally ludicrous. Anyone who knows anything about litigation knows that the landowners who file these claims have no interest in delaying their resolution, because they cannot recover the money needed for clean up unless the case gets to trial and through appeal. Every lawyer who represents landowners will tell you that the oil company lawyers are the ones who seek to delay these cases. And the big oil companies throw millions of dollars at their lawyers to avoid justice instead of spending the money to clean up the messes they left behind.

Remarkably, Ms. Landry and other industry propagandists have repeatedly claimed that the 2003 Corbello decision, in which the Louisiana Supreme Court recognized that Louisiana landowners have the right to sue oil companies for contaminating their land, has "chilled" oil and gas exploration in the state. I represented the landowners in Corbello, and I can personally attest that this claim is unquestionably false.

Public records with the Office of Conservation show that the number of drilling permits issued in the state doubled in the two years after the Corbello decision. In other words, there were twice as many oil wells drilled in the state after the Corbello decision as there were before.

Moreover, at the 2010 LSU Mineral Law Institute, Commissioner of Conservation Scott Angelle bragged that the state has been setting records for drilling permits year after year. This means that there is more drilling for oil and gas in Louisiana now than ever.

These statistics utterly contradict the oil industry propaganda and expose it for what it is—a false alarm to persuade the public to give oil companies special immunity for contaminating Louisiana soil and water.

The truth is that the oil companies are actively pursuing the Haynesville Shale in North Louisiana at this very moment. And the truth is that holding oil companies responsible for their contamination is good for Louisiana because it motivates them to run clean operations.

Ms. Landry and her fellow paid propagandists would have people believe that Louisiana must choose between oil and gas or a clean environment. That is simply not true. Responsible oilfield operators will tell you that it is not necessary to contaminate in order to produce oil and gas.

Indeed, it has never been necessary to ruin our soil and water in order to produce oil and gas. But Briggs and his fellow travelers continually try to influence Louisiana citizens with veiled threats that oil and gas jobs will dry up if they have to clean up the messes they make.

Louisiana first passed laws against oilfield waste in 1906. Over one hundred years later, the oil industry is still fighting the state's attempts to preserve our irreplaceable ecology in order to line its pockets with even greater oil and gas profits. Apparently, the record profits they have been reporting are not enough, and they want more at our expense.

J. Michael Veron
Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson, L.L.C.
Lake Charles, La.

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