NEW ORLEANS — Cameron Parish filed at least 11 lawsuits against more than 100 oil and gas companies on Monday in what is a "litigious legal system," according to the president of one of the state’s trade associations.
Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association told the Louisiana Record that Cameron Parish was looking for handouts from the industry that had been a partner in rebuilding the parish after devastating hurricanes.
“It seems that Cameron Parish is more interested in lining the pockets of a few trial lawyers than caring for the many landowners of the parish that depend on oil and gas leasing and production to provide for their families,” Briggs said.
Defendants in the suits included major oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon-Mobile and Shell. The suits seek remedies, which include payments to restore coastal areas that have allegedly been damaged by the companies’ dredging canals. The parish alleges violations of the state’s coastal zone laws and drilling permits in addition to pollution of groundwater, marshes and waterways.
The state of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers have been regulating and permitting the oil and gas industries for several decades now, Briggs said.
“Those very same laws are in existence today,” Briggs said. “The oil and gas industry goes to great lengths to ensure that the environment is given top priority no matter where we drill a well.”
Briggs said the lawsuits couldn’t have come at a worse time for the oil and gas industry, and its future in Cameron Parish.
“At a time when our industry is facing historic low rig counts, record-low permitting and oil prices (of) $27, suing the very industry that is providing the majority of high-paying jobs in this state makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” Briggs said.
Cherri Foytlin, author of Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion, told the Louisiana Record, however, that there wasn’t any reason why the state of Louisiana couldn’t continue to be energy producers for the country without having to trade or give away people’s futures.
“We need a new plan, and we all need to engage in making that plan work,” Foytlin said. “We need to make sure that this plan truly benefits us and not what equates to corporate slum lords who are actually our renters.”
Without the buffer of the marshes and barrier islands, Louisiana’s low-lying coastal communities as well as its biggest city have little natural protection from storm surges created by hurricanes.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority estimates that the cost of rebuilding coastal defenses is $50 million or more, which will come from taxpayers’ pockets unless industries are held accountable.
Scientist have said that a football field of land is lost every hour with a loss of more than a million football fields to date, Foytlin said.
“Many have said that the industry is responsible for around 30 percent of that,” Foytlin said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to think that, at least, the industry should pay for 30 percent of the cost to correct the issue.”
In a location described by Briggs as having “bias courts," many think that drilling in Cameron Parish will see a decline as 10,000 jobs have already been lost in Louisiana while more than 250,000 have been lost globally in the current downturn.
“The idea that these oil and gas companies in Cameron Parish will now have to pay ridiculous legal fees to defend yet more frivolous lawsuits is downright absurd,” Briggs said. “This suit suggests that companies will not want to drill in Cameron Parish in the future.”
Similar lawsuits, still pending, were filed by the Jefferson Parish Council in 2013. The Plaguemines Parish Council did the same; however, in November 2015, it rescinded the lawsuits.