By Don Briggs
President, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association
The same song different verse seems to be the new theme for the Louisiana legal climate. While the filing of 28 new lawsuits by the same group of trial lawyers should come as no surprise to the oil and gas industry, the lack of surprise makes the issue no less egregious.
On Tuesday of this week, a new round of 28 lawsuits under the cover of Plaquemines and Jefferson Parish were filed against the oil and gas industry naming 88 different companies across both parishes. The suits allege violation of the terms of the Louisiana oil and gas industry’s leases and drilling permits, thus causing substantial damage to land and water bodies.
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, a cabinet agency of Governor Bobby Jindal, has oversight of the alleged “leases and drilling permits” in question. So rather than question the State’s oversight or sue them, these trial lawyers have found from past experience that it is much more beneficial to sue the oil and gas companies themselves.
While on the topic of the State of Louisiana and the Jindal Administration, the number of legacy lawsuits that have been filed on Governor Jindal’s watch has grown exponentially compared to previous administrations. While he condemned the SLFPA-E’s suits, and has danced around permanent solutions for legacy suits, he has yet to condemn these new suits publicly.
These suits are more of the same. Extort as much money from the oil and gas industry as possible, thus lining the pockets of this small group of trial lawyers. Plaquemines and Jefferson Parish are simply following the precedence set by the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E). While the representing plaintiff attorneys have been quoted as saying that this is not about ‘monetary damages, but rather remedies’, I am not certain that anyone actually believes that.
Mr. John Barry, former Vice President of the SLFPA-E, was recently quoted in The Advertiser as saying that the oil gas industry operates in areas where “guerrillas, pirates and riots are present, so it’s not likely that companies are going to be scared out of Louisiana due to lawsuits”. Thankfully, this is Louisiana and not a third world country. One oil and gas operator responded to Mr. Barry’s comments by stating, “While we may not have guerillas, pirates and riots, Louisiana does have a terrible legal climate and therefore we are simply moving our operations across the border to Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.”
The million-dollar question is why would anyone want to invest in drilling opportunities in Louisiana with this current legal climate? The simple answer to this simple question: the companies are not investing in drilling opportunities in South Louisiana and in our coastal waters. It has become commonplace for LOGA members to say that their investors simply are not interested in the idea of making financial commitments for drilling opportunities in South Louisiana and in our coastal waters.
At a time when Louisiana could be the nation’s leader for oil and gas production, a small group of money-hungry trial lawyers are creating an organic moratorium on drilling activity. Does it go without saying that the state of Louisiana is in need of drastic tort reform?