The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East has filed suit against 97 oil companies for damages caused to Louisiana’s wetlands in the course of drilling, producing and transporting oil and gas over the past 60 years. It is contended that the digging of canals for drilling locations and pipelines has caused our wetlands to deteriorate to the point where they do not afford protection to inhabited lands from hurricane tidal surges.
Some would contend that this lawsuit which has been authorized by State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, is an economic bonanza to the benefit of Mr. Caldwell’s legal colleagues (also campaign contributors) since the prosecution of this, and the multitude of copycat lawsuits that will follow, will be parceled out to various attorneys across the state.
The oil industry has recognized its role in the degradation of our wetlands through the digging of canals, allowing saltwater to infiltrate our marshes. The fact is, that most of these offending canals were constructed before environmental scientists were fully aware of the damage potential therefrom. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the potential effect of these canals was realized and regulations were changed which severely limited the construction of new canals and mandated that future wells be drilled from already existing canals, if possible.
However, there are many more players in this game that no one ever recognizes.
First and foremost, the leveeing of the Mississippi River by the U.S. Corps of Engineers is the biggest culprit in this whole scenario. It has deprived the coastal area lands of the annual flooding of the river carrying the sediment and nutrients that historically built the deltaic plain on which we now live.
The oil and gas wells for which these canals were dug have produced billions of dollars over the past 60 years for several interested parties who have reaped the riches afforded thereby, in addition to the oil companies.
The State of Louisiana, as the owner of much of this land, particularly the water bottoms, has received billions of dollars in lease and royalty money. Income from oil and gas has paid for a very large part of the cost of running our government.
All of the local school boards own the land and minerals to every regular Section 16 in this state and have enjoyed the oil and gas income therefrom since the beginning of production.
Thousands of individual land and mineral owners have enjoyed the lifestyle afforded by the oil and gas produced from those wells.
Why haven’t any of these parties been named a defendant in this lawsuit? Unfortunately, the oil companies, which for 60 years have made Louisiana and its residents some of the wealthiest in the nation, stand out as the “low hanging fruit,” ripe for the picking. Hasn’t anyone noticed that since the advent of environmental lawsuits perpetrated by environmentalists and the legal profession, relatively few oil and gas wells have been drilled in onshore Louisiana? If you removed the Haynesville Shale play in north Louisiana from the statistics, the picture would be even bleaker.
In addition, all of the citizens of Louisiana have enjoyed the thousands of jobs provided by the oil companies. The coastal area of Louisiana has had the lowest unemployment rate in the state for most of those 60 years. However, that is now driven by the deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.
This lawsuit should not be allowed to move forward!
Independent Professional Landman (Retired)