Our View: All arguments should be heard

In this week’s issue we are proud to present a special section which focuses on the oil and gas industry in the Bayou Region.

On the one hand, the news is not good. Unemployment is at high levels. Absent are indications that the local economy will rebound soon. A primary indicator, of course, lies in the price of gasoline, which remains flat. As the U.S. oil industry goes, so too do our local businesses, which over decades have used their abilities to innovate to the benefit of the industry.

On the oil and gas front there is room for some hope. As Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association pointed out during an address before the South Central Industrial Association last week, the only directions things can go from here is up.

This is true for oil and gas, but it is also true for our local businesses, no matter how long it takes oil and gas to recover.

As SCIA President Jane Arnette pointed out during a recent interview “our people are resilient.”

It is that resilience that got entrepreneurs into the oil and gas industry to begin with. It is that resilience that allows commercial fishermen and the processors they sell to – despite issues with low dockside prices – to innovate and adapt as they deal with their own challenges. It is that resilience which has seen new industries grow in our communities, including those making major contributions to health care.

This issue contains another story as well, concerning the direction Gov. John Bel Edwards is clearly traveling in regard to lawsuits against the industry, for damage done to Louisiana’s coastal communities, including ours. The legal action Edwards entertains is predicated in part on allegations of permit violations. A strong argument is made that if indeed such violations have taken place, the state has adequate resources to take administrative action. In one such lawsuit, brought in Jefferson Parish, the courts have thus far made clear the governance of long-standing law in this state, which requires that administrative remedies be sought before help is sought from the courts.

Appeals are in progress.

What ace the governor might have in the legal hole is not clear at this point, other than the sense of urgency he has communicated, or which more specifically has been communicated by the Department of Natural Resources. It was that agency’s letter which informed Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove that the parish has 30 days to file its own action against the oil companies. The state will pursue its own suits in parishes that don’t do so themselves.

SCIA has been the most vocal so far, standing up for the industry it represents, as it should.

As the statement released by Jane Arnette eloquently points out, the tough economic times affecting out oil and gas industry make the timing of an action against the oil companies in court less than ideal, if indeed there is a convenient time for any industry to be dragged into court.

Parish President Dove has also made his opposition to a local suit well known, for reasons that appear well-founded and grounded in good advice.

But we are left to wonder whether such a decision – while clearly the purview of the Parish President according to the Terrebonne Parish charter – should be made by one man.

There is nothing in the charter that would prevent the Parish President from seeking the advice of the Parish Council. And today’s article in The Times points out – onerous as the prospect may be – that qualified and knowledgeable local attorneys see reasons for more careful consideration. While it is not likely that Parish Council members would advise a course of action different from that which the Parish President has chosen, we see nothing wrong with allowing all voices to be heard by the council and by the citizens of the parish. We are not convinced that a suit by the parish is the best course to take. But knowledge is power, and we would rather make our decision – as we would hope the parish might as well – based on the broadest base of knowledge available. •