Appeals court dismisses coastal lawsuit against oil companies

By Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro | Mar 9, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 3 dismissed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies alleging damage to coastal wetlands.

The win for those companies upholds a 2015 ruling by a federal district judge in favor of exploration and production oil and gas companies.

In 2013, Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, or SLFPA-E, filed a lawsuit claiming $8 billion in damages as a result of the drilling and canal dredging that eroded the region’s hurricane-buffer zone. Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, or LOGA, and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, or LMOGA, said SLFPA-E had no legal right to bring such a claim. They filed a lawsuit against Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell alleging he illegally allowed SLFPA-E to file the suit and further retain contingency-fee attorneys.

“This ruling brings to an end a lawsuit that we’ve been saying for the last 3½ years was a waste of resources,” Gifford Briggs, vice president at LOGA, told the Louisiana Record. “We spent four years damaging the reputation of the state and hurting investments when we could have used energy money more productively.”

According to a news release, the United States Geological Survey cited oil and gas activities among the primary causes of coastal deterioration — a loss of more than 1,900 square miles since the 1920s. Experts said this zone acts as the first line of defense, without which floods and hurricanes are inevitable.

“Living on a coast brings challenges,” Briggs said. “But living on the Gulf Coast, we are particularly susceptible to storm surges. We all need to come together and stick with a coastal master plan that will benefit us all.”

The decision agrees with U.S. District Judge Nannette Brown who said in 2015 that oil companies weren’t legally responsible for protecting the public from any coastal erosion allegedly caused by their operations. This leaves SLFPA-E at an impasse as to which entities to hold accountable for restoration.

“Restoration is everyone’s responsibility,” Briggs said. “From businesses and the community to the governor and state agencies, we need to develop ideas that make sense and create a more holistic approach, instead of filing lawsuits that don't move the state forward.”

Opponents argue that restoration will not preclude further erosion. Contributing to the dilemma is global warming and rising sea levels along with a failed infrastructure that supported levees, spillways and the river’s directional flow.

“Everyone agrees the biggest cause of erosion has been levying and the Mississippi River,” Briggs said. “For thousands of years, the river brought sediment down to the delta, but that’s no more. We basically created land where there was none and have experienced the repercussions of harming mother nature.”

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