Louisiana Lawsuits Try to Put Oil Industry on Trial for Following the Law 80 Years Ago

Louisiana’s economy has benefited a lot from the energy industry. For decades, oil and natural gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the refining and other support industries on shore, have given the state billions of dollars in tax revenue. At the same time, various conservation groups and other special interests in the state have worried about the effects of the industry, including oil spills and coastal erosion. For decades, regulators have tried to mitigate these harms through permitting policies which have become more extensive over time. Now 2018 is shaping up to be a year where oil companies operating in the Gulf will be forced to justify their practices in court without any specific violations being in question.

Twenty coastal parishes (out of a total of 60 in the state) are filing lawsuits against oil companies who either are operating or did operate in the area. The lawsuit is surprising in its breadth. Each company is being sued individually and the list of names includes both major companies like Chevron, Shell, BP, and ExxonMobil, as well as smaller companies that no longer operate in the area. In part, the lawsuit looks back to the 1930s, when development in the area began.

The case is not the first one to go after the industry for coastal erosion. One of the first cases filed against oil companies seeking damages for coastal erosion was filed in 2013. That case sought to force the oil companies to pay to fill in canals and restore wetlands. The lawsuit was soon joined by others, but the entire process became bogged down in the courts…


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