3rd Circuit Court of Appeal affirms judgment in oilfield remediation case

By Robert Davis | Mar 30, 2018

LAKE CHARLES — Louisiana's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has affirmed a  judgment over the adoption of an oilfield remediation plan submitted by Union Oil Co. of California (UNOCAL) to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ (LDNR).

Judges Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux,  Shannon J. Gremillion, and John E. Conery comprised the court. Judge Conery gave the affirming opinion with Judge Thibodeaux dissenting. 

In the trial, UNOCAL conceded that it caused environmental damage to Vermilion Parish School Board (VPSB) property and agreed to a $3.5 million settlement to remediate those damages, according to the opinion. It also was ordered to adopt a remediation plan, which VPSB appealed. Because of that "the issues in this appeal concern only the procedural implementation of the remediation obligation of UNOCAL pursuant to Act 312, La.R.S. 30:29, which governs how monetary awards for environmental damages are spent," the opinion said. 

The court reasoned that "unless a party proves by a preponderance of evidence that another plan is a more feasible plan (MFP), the court shall adopt the plan approved by the department."

Thibodeaux argued that the statute "does not by any of its terms state that the responsible party is to perform the actual remediation." 

Instead, "the responsible party is 'to fund the implementation of the plan,'” under La.R.S. 30:29(C)(5). Those funds are then put in the registry of the court for the court to manage during the remediation process.

VPSB submitted 27 written questions to LDNR during the formulation of the MFP, according to the opinion. After receiving answers, the filed a motion to adopt the proposed judgments from the questions into the plan itself. 

The court argued that "there is no statutory authority for VPSB to modify LDNR’s plan by attacking the trial court’s form of judgment."

Instead, the judgment of the trail obligated UNOCAL to fund and perform the remedial work and evaluations set forth in the LDNR plan. 

VPSB alleged that it should be put in charge of the remedial work, which the court found "is not supported by statutory law, jurisprudence, or by the LDNR final plan adopted by the trial court."

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