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UPDATE: Vermilion Parish Police Jury vote not to support oil and gas lawsuit

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coastal restoration coastal restoration

The Vermilion Parish Police Jury unanimously voted not to support a lawsuit against oil and gas companies. 

District Attorney Keith Stutes filed the suit last week over damage caused by the energy companies to the Vermilion Parish's coast.

Since the police jury is not a party to the lawsuit, it is unclear what impact the vote, if any, might have. 
 

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District Attorney Keith Stutes has amended his suit against oil and gas companies alleging damages along Vermilion Coast. 

The amendment are generally limited to adding several defendants to the suit. 

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District Attorney Keith Stutes is suing 49 oil and gas companies for damages along Vermilion Coast. The suit claims that the oil companies did not comply with the law and caused marsh erosion, saltwater intrusion, radioactive water release and flooding along the coast. 

Louisiana is losing it's land to the water faster than anywhere else on Earth. In the state's Master Plan they estimate that it will cost close to 100 billion dollars to restore and protect Louisiana's coast. 

"[The damage] has unbounded affect not only the wildlife and fisheries in the area--but on the people who rely on those areas for commercial and recreational use as well," said Stutes.

However, Don Briggs from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association said that the companies follow strict regulations. He says the suit will be a red flag for the oil and gas companies who want to do business.

"This suit, along with the other filed in the other parishes is sending aloud and clear message to the oil and gas industries that we no longer want you here," said Briggs.

Stutes response was to say his job is to enforce the law. Vermilion is one of 13 coastal parishes filing similar suits. Governor Edwards has mentioned the possibility of a global settlement. Stutes said he decided to file the suit so that Vermilion Parish isn't left out of any settlements. 

"It's really imperative that a stand be made or a point be made. Vermilion Parish must be involved in the resolution of those coastal claims," said Stutes.

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Attorney General Jeff Landry says he will attempt to intervene in the lawsuit filed today by District Attorney Keith Stutes.

Landry, who campaigned on a platform of withdrawing the suits because they "cost Louisiana jobs," issued the following statement on Thursday: 

“It is disappointing to see the lawsuit filed today in Vermilion Parish – as we have repeatedly conveyed to the coastal parishes that litigation beyond those already filed in Cameron, Jefferson, and Plaquemines were counter-intuitive.  As I said in March – we cannot allow these differing, and competing interests, to push claims which collectively impact the public policy for our coast and our entire State. Again – we can balance the tremendous benefits of the oil and gas industry and the ongoing coastal crisis. But the creation of superfluous litigation solely benefitting the attorneys involved does not serve that purpose. Furthermore – creating a situation where multiple Courts rule on the same issues will result in inconsistencies, conflicts, and confusion. We intend to intervene in this lawsuit and any subsequent ones to protect the interests of our State and its people in the most judicious and economical manner.”

During the campaign last fall, Landry called the lawsuits "coastal extortion."

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The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, a lobbying organization for oil and gas companies, has released a statement regarding the lawsuit. 

The full text of the statement is below: 

"Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) President Don Briggs today issued the following statement in response to the filing of litigation against 45 oil and gas companies by District Attorney Keith Stutes and the plaintiffs’ law firm Broussard & David alleging permit violations in Vermilion Parish:

“The energy industry has a longstanding commitment to Louisiana’s environment and the economy. Over the years, oil and gas producers have invested billions in jobs, infrastructure and environmental sustainability projects across the state. Many of those investments are concentrated in Vermilion Parish. That’s why it is so disheartening that the District Attorney and his trial lawyer friends have chosen to put the parish on such a dangerous path ignoring the fact that this misguided effort could have significant economic consequences for many, many workers across the parish who are directly and indirectly supported by the industry.”

“Vermillion Parish residents should stand up and tell the DA and his trial lawyer friends that they oppose these lawsuits. The oil and gas industry is Louisiana’s No. 1 private investor in the state’s environment and coast. These lawsuits will only divert critical time and resources away from the industry’s ongoing support of coastal restoration efforts. Residents should also tell the DA and his trial lawyer friends that these lawsuits are unnecessary. Every oil and gas producer in Louisiana operates under the comprehensive regulation of the Department of Natural Resources. Through the department, there is already a rigorous administrative process in place to ensure that each and every coastal use permit in the state is in compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act. Any issues or concerns regarding permit compliance can be addressed through the administrative review process without the excessive delays and exorbitant legal costs that come along with litigation.”

“To ignore these regulations and pursue litigation, without so much as a public hearing on the subject, makes this look much more like a shakedown scheme than a legitimate effort to address flooding or erosion issues. Unfortunately, it seems there are some environmental activists, trial lawyers and politicians in our state who will not be satisfied until every oil and gas worker has been laid off and every well has been stopped. We cannot let that happen. We will continue to vigorously defend our industry and our workers from this ill-conceived and divisive litigation.”

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We've obtained a copy of the lawsuit filed by District Attorney Keith Stutes to recover damages, costs and restoration from companies he says caused damage to Vermilion Parish through oil and gas exploration, production and transportation operations.

To read the lawsuit, scroll down. 

Some of the defendants listed in the press release are not named in the lawsuit. A spokesman for the District Attorney's Office says those defendants will be added when the lawsuit is amended later today. 

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Press Release:  The District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District, Keith Stutes, has announced the filing of major litigation to recover for damages, restoration costs and actual restoration as a result of oil and gas exploration, production and transportation operations in Vermilion Parish which have “caused substantial damages to land and water bodies, geological formations, and cultural and economic opportunities in violation of Louisiana state law, rules and regulations.”

The 15th Judicial District includes Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes.

The action by Stutes makes Vermilion Parish one of six Louisiana coastal parishes filing such claims.  The others are Plaquemines, St.  Bernard, Jefferson, Lafourche and Cameron parishes.

The Louisiana legislature established a statutory standard for protecting the coast of Louisiana with the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Law in 1978.  Prior to the passage of this legislation, various rules, regulations, field orders and orders by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Stream Control Commission were required to be followed by those in oil and gas exploration, production and transportation activities.

Under the 1978 law, parishes in the Coastal Zone Management Area could also establish local Coastal Zone Management plans.  Vermilion chose not to do so, and, when parishes do not have a local plan, the 1978 law designates the local District Attorney as the public official who is obligated to pursue recovery of damages that occur in the coastal zone for violations of the law.

“While we all recognize the tremendous impact oil and gas activities have had on our local economy, every person who has ever fished, hunted and enjoyed the natural beauty of Vermilion Parish is aware of the environmental issues caused by oil and gas activities,” Stutes said.

“The cleanup and restoration of these damages will create new and enormous economic and employment opportunities for the people of Vermilion Parish…restoring our coast and environment is an important economic impetus for our citizens,” Stutes continued. “Moreover, as District Attorney, it is my fiduciary responsibility to see to it this law is enforced uniformly and the law is made to work with no show of favoritism,” Stutes continued.

“The message is simple: clean up the mess that you have made and restore our coast to its original condition,” Stutes concluded.

The Vermilion lawsuit contends the named defendants did not comply with the law and/or rules and orders resulting in identifiable, specific, and substantial harm and that the defendants failed to comply with permits the defendants obtained to engage in coastal activities or failed to obtain coastal permits at all.

In all instances, it is contended the defendants failed to revegetate, refill, clean and detoxify and restore the impacted area to its original condition as required by state law.

The Vermilion lawsuit names the following as defendants:

AMERICAN TRADING AND PRODUCTION CORPORATION

APACHE CORPORATION

BASF CORPORATION

BAY COQUILLE, INC.

BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY

BRAMMER ENGINEERING, INC.

CAMEX OPERATING COMPANY

CAMEX, INC.

CASTEX ENERGY, INC.

CENTURY EXPLORATION NEW ORLEANS, LLC

COLUMBIA GULF TRANSMISSION, LLC

CONLEY P. SMITH OPERATING COMPANY

CONLEY P. SMITH, LLC

CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY

ENABLE OKLAHOMA INTRASTATE TRANSMISSION, LLC

ENERGEN RESOURCES CORPORATION

ENERGYQUEST II, LLC

EP ENERGY E&P COMPANY, L.P.

EXCHANGE OIL & GAS CORPORATION

EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION

FREEPORT-MCMORAN OIL & GAS L.L.C.

GRAHAM ROYALTY, LTD.

GULFPORT ENERGY CORPORATION

HESS CORPORATION

HILCORP ENERGY COMPANY

JANEX OIL CO., INC.

LATEX-STAR, INC.

LLOG EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION COMPANY, L.L.C.

MANTI EXPORATION OPERATING, LLC

MCMORAN OIL & GAS LLC

MOBIL OIL EXPLORATION & PRODUCING SOUTHEAST INC.

MOSBACHER ENERGY COMPANY

NOBLE ENERGY, INC.

PACIFIC ENTERPRISES OIL COMPANY

PETROHAWK ENERGY CORPORATION

PETRO-HUNT, L.L.C.

PIONEER NATURAL RESOURCES USA, INC.

QUEST EXPLORATION L.C.C.

SAMSON CONTOUR ENERGY E&P, LLC

SAMSON RESOURCES COMPANY

SHELL OFFSHORE, INC.

SHELL OIL COMPANY

SHORELINE SOUTHEAST LLC

SWEPI LP

TENNESSEE GAS PIPELINE COMPANY, L.L.C.

TEXAS PETROLEUM INVESTMENT COMPANY

THE LOUISIANA LAND AND EXPLORATION COMPANY, L.L.C.

THE MERIDIAN RESOURCE & EXPLORATION LLC

UNION OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA

Richard Broussard, a partner in the Lafayette law firm of Broussard & David, will be handling the litigation for the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s office.

To read the lawsuit, scroll down. 

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