Coastal Erosion Seen as Largest Issue for Many Louisianians

Posted on Monday, March 4th, 2019 at 9:30 pm    

The oil and gas industry partially funds the America’s Wetland Foundation. Recently, an online survey commissioned by the AWF of 400 people who reside in Louisiana asked questions about the the loss and injury to the coastal areas and wetlands in the state.

While the survey did not specifically ask questions or reference the lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East against almost 100 oil and gas companies, it did ask several questions about the damage that has been done. In addition, questions were asked about how best to approach restoration efforts.

The survey showed that 90 percent of the respondents believe that the federal government should be responsible for coastal area protection – specifically for those areas that supply the country with energy.

Almost everyone that responded said that a joint effort is needed in order for the affected areas to be restored. A similar response was given when asked if the environmental and energy leaders needed to cooperate more. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said that the destruction of the coastal areas is the most important issue they will see in their lifetimes.

While this survey is a small sampling of those in Louisiana, there is little doubt as to the impact the damage to the coastal areas is having on the state. The current SLFPA-E lawsuit seeks to hold the oil and gas industry responsible for the damage to the wetlands caused by dredging and the construction of pipelines and canals. Although the lawsuit has considerable support, there is also opposition – particularly from Governor Jindal’s administration.

Political Disputes Rise Over Levee Board Lawyer Fees

Posted on Monday, March 4th, 2019 at 9:21 pm    

Contingency fee contracts are commonplace today, as they allows plaintiffs to move forward with their lawsuit without paying any money to an attorney. The attorney’s fees are paid out of the judgment or settlement that the plaintiff receives. If the plaintiff does not receive any money, then the plaintiff’s attorney doesn’t either.

A political battle is heating up in Louisiana over contingency fee contracts. The two politicians involved in the dispute are Jeff Landry, a former member of the state Senate, and current Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. Some believe that Landry is trying to pave the way for a run at the Attorney General’s office in 2015.

The first point of contention was over the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and its lawsuit against almost 100 oil and gas companies. That lawsuit claims that the oil and gas industry is responsible for the injury and damage to Louisiana’s coastal areas because of dredging and the building of pipelines and canals. The lawsuit wants the oil and gas energy to fix or pay for the damage.

Caldwell approved a contingency fee contract which made it possible for the SLFPA-E to retain a law firm for the massive lawsuit. Landry disagreed with Caldwell approving the contract.

That’s not the only contingency fee contract that has Caldwell in a bind. Caldwell sent out a letter earlier this month expressing his desire to meet with Landry, two lobbying groups and others about a class-action lawsuit against the state of Louisiana by a teachers’ union and a school board. Landry responded publically, saying that he would “be happy to enter [Caldwell’s] office and make the right decisions on behalf of the people of Louisiana.” Landry did not seem to appreciate Caldwell’s offer for a meeting and made a comment about the Attorney General not knowing what he should do. No one else who was invited commented on the invitation.

Because there are so many factors to consider in a lawsuit, it’s best to speak with an experienced attorney to learn more about your options. Environmental issues affect everyone and without action, big industry may continue to make its mark – and possibly not a good one – on our country.

Does Bobby Jindal Think Oil Companies Should Clean Up Mess?

Posted on Monday, March 4th, 2019 at 9:15 pm    

On behalf of Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson, LLC posted in Personal Injury on Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has opposed a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East from the beginning. The lawsuit names 97 oil and gas companies as defendants for their role in the damaged wetlands along Louisiana’s coast. The suit alleges that the damage is due to dredging and the construction of canals and pipelines. Without the injury to this area, there would be more protection against storm surges and less repairs needed for the levee systems around New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

According to one Louisiana paper, the Times-Picayune, Governor Jindal says the coast needs to be restored and the state needs to protect it, but not with a lawsuit. His coastal advisor and other members of the top levee boards said that the oil and gas industry has contributed to the restoration of the wetlands.

Environmental groups, though, say that Governor Jindal has another reason for opposing the lawsuit. Many of those groups got together and accused the governor of trying to get the lawsuit quashed in order to keep getting his political contributions from the oil and gas companies. Those contributions total more than $1 million in the last decade, according to numbers provided by Levees.org, League of Woman Voters, and the Sierra Club, as well as others.

A spokesperson for Governor Jindal had this to say about those accusations: “That’s absurd.”

The lawsuit will continue to face heavy opposition and there will likely be some changes made in the SLFPA-E when the governor appoints new board members. There was also a letter sent to the Attorney General’s Office by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association that says Buddy Caldwell did not have the authority to approve the lawsuit.

The Usumacinta Jack-up Disaster: One of The Worst in History

Posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 at 9:48 pm    

No one ever said that working on an off-shore oil platform was safe. However, by taking appropriate safety precautions, the most catastrophic accidents can usually be avoided. The key word here is usually. Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely safeguard against a disaster when dealing with massive machinery, unpredictable ocean conditions and highly flammable gas and oil.

In one such oil rig accident, the Usumacinta Jack-up disaster, dangerous and uncontrollable sea conditions led to the fiery death of 22 workers on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig.

What happened in the Usumacinta Jack-up disaster?

More than a decade has passed since a tragic oil rig accident that was so severe the world will never forget it. In October 2007, the Usumacinta Jack-up disaster claimed the lives of 22 oil rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico when a Jack-up oil rig collided with a Kab-101 oil drilling platform.

The collision happened while the Usumacinta Jack-up was anchored beside the Kab-101 platform to drill a well for the Kab-103. An 80 mph storm with waves as high as 8 meters caused the deck of the Usumacinta Jack-up to strike Kab-101’s “valve tree.” A massive oil and gas leak ensued and the rig workers were unable to completely seal the valves. The platform erupted in flames and 21 people were discovered dead on the facility. Another person was missing and presumed dead.

In the following month, the Usumacinta Jack-up had two more fires which were successfully contained without any further deaths. The well lost approximately 5,000 barrels of oil in the disaster and never recovered.

There’s no way to know when disaster will strike at sea

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict when violent weather conditions will strike at sea. These weather conditions arrive with little warning and it may be impossible to evacuate an oil rig before the conditions strike.

Nevertheless, there are certain safety precautions that the managers and owners of oil rigs and drilling platforms must adhere to. Failure to adhere to these safety procedures could lead to the liability of oil drilling companies in the event of a disaster. As such, victims — and family members of the deceased — in such events might be able to pursue legal claims against negligent companies following these tragic maritime incidents.

How a Trump administration affects Louisiana landowners

Posted on Monday, November 28th, 2016 at 3:59 pm    

Over the past eight years, the U.S. oil and gas industry has encountered a slowing in overall growth, due in part to the policies enacted by the Obama administration. With the election of Donald Trump, America can anticipate to see a resurgence in the expansion of pipelines and the opening up of Federal lands for oil exploration. What might this mean to landowners in Louisiana?

New pipelines and onshore drilling likely

Several projects that have encountered resistance such as the Dakota Access Pipeline will receive support from key politicos working in the new Trump administration.

Restrictions and delays will be lifted in the interest of moving these large infrastructure projects forward to garner support from the corporate segment. Grassroots protests, like the one in Standing Rock, may not enjoy the protection of their liberties and lands, despite promises made during the campaign.

Offshore drilling not anticipated to grow

Experts don’t expect to see much increase appear in the offshore drilling segment of the industry, even though there should be a better economic environment for big oil to begin new projects. However, federal domestic policy may not have as large an impact as Big Oil continues to work towards the recovery of the Gulf Coast.

Renewed vigilance to protect your land needed

If your property is located near an unexplored oil field or in the path of a proposed pipeline, it will be more important than ever to protect your rights with energy and commitment. Reaching out to an attorney with experience in property law and knowledge of the oil industry will be key in preserving your home and the environment.

Louisiana governor reveals proposed ‘legacy lawsuit’ bill

Posted on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 at 6:54 pm    

Ever since the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Agency-East filed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies last year, Gov. Jindal has not kept his opposition quiet. From removing the vice-president of the board and two other members to working on legislation to quash so-called “legacy lawsuit,” the governor and his administration have tried to stop the lawsuit.

Last month, we spoke about Sen. Robert Adley and how he was putting together a bill for this legislative session that would affect the SLFPA-E’s lawsuit. That proposed legislation has now been unveiled. It’s not much different than expected. It would “clarify the types of damages that can be recovered and the standards for recovering those damages.” In other words, it would severely limit lawsuits against the oil and gas companies for the damage and injury to the state’s coastal areas. That damage has occurred over decades of pipeline and canal building.

The SLFPA-E’s lawsuit wants the oil and gas companies to pay for the damage or to repair it. The bill wants the oil and gas companies to admit their liability so that regulatory cleanup can occur without litigation. Also, the bill sets limits as to the level of damage or contamination that has been done by defining those levels as “unsafe or unsuitable.” Unfortunately, the head of the largest business lobbying group in the state was involved in developing the bill.

It’s not known what the actual impact on the SLFPA-E’s lawsuit would be if this bill was passed. Proponents of the new legislation say that the bill will benefit Louisiana consumers and “help end needless litigation.”

Those who want environmental changes in Louisiana know that court action is often required in order to make way for new changes. An experienced Louisiana environmental attorney can provide more information about how such cases can proceed.

Source: The Advocate, “Jindal unveils legislation to solve oil and gas legacy lawsuits” Michelle Millhollon, Mar. 28, 2014

Levee board disregards Louisiana governor’s opposition to Doody

Posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 at 4:16 pm    

Local headlines have been dominated by the ongoing story of the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s board. As many know, the legal claim is directed at nearly 100 of the world’s largest oil and pipeline companies for their role in inflicting injury on critical, sensitive wetlands. As we have covered on this blog, the suit has faced a number of challenges from officials in Louisiana.

In early February, we discussed Governor Bobby Jindal’s disapproval of Tim Doody as chair of the SLFPA-E board. Under the current system, an independent panel appoints people to serve on the levee authority board, and the governor has generally stood in staunch opposition to any nominees who support the wetlands degradation lawsuit. Most recently, the independent levee authority nomination committee agreed to sidestep the governor’s resistance to Doody by keeping him on as board leader.

One of the state’s strongest supporters of independent, localized levee authorities expressed her concerns over Jindal’s actions. She noted that the boards should be populated by people who have technical knowledge, rather than trying to shut down nominees for political reasons.

Behind the scenes of this ongoing struggle, one state legislator has introduced a bill that would change the process by which board members are appointed. If the bill is signed into law, board members would have to receive the governor’s approval in order to serve. This, of course, has raised serious concerns.

The composition of the SLFPA-E board is obviously relevant to the direction of the ongoing legal claim. Wetlands in south Louisiana have decimated by decades of action taken by the oil industry, and state residents have been forced to deal with the impact. Understanding the scale and unprecedented nature of this legal action, it’s no surprise that it’s incredibly complex and will require sensitivity, skill and knowledge to forge ahead.

Source: The Times-Picayune, “Levee authority committee ignores Bobby Jindal rejection of one nominee, agrees to send him another,” Mark Schleifstein, March 6, 2014

Rickety railroad bridge blamed for massive vinyl chloride spill

Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2012 at 4:17 pm    

Two weeks ago in New Jersey, a railroad bridge over Mantua Creek collapsed, sending four tanker cars plunging into the creek. Some 100,000 gallons of vinyl chloride spilled from the railcars and raised a thick toxic cloud. Vinyl chloride, a component of PVC plastic, is an explosive and a known human carcinogen. Sixty people were hospitalized for chemical exposure.

Now, 54 area residents have filed a lawsuit against CSX Corporation, which operated the derailed train, and Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), which owned and operated the bridge. The lawsuit claims that the companies had reason to know the bridge over Mantua Creek was unsound — residents had reported it — but they had continued to use and operate the bridge nevertheless.

The movable “swing bridge” was originally built in 1873. In Aug. 2009, a similar derailment and bridge collapse occurred. Repairs were made, but residents nearby say they continued to hear strange noises from the bridge, including loud bang that occurred when no train was on the bridge.

The bridge can be repositioned when not in use so that river traffic can cross below. When it is moved into position for a train crossing, it is designed to lock the bridge’s rails and the adjacent rails together. A green signal goes on when the rails are locked, indicating that the bridge is safe for a train to cross, and a red signal goes on when the track is not positioned properly or locked to the connecting track.

The 54 plaintiffs say that on the morning of the chemical spill, a crew moved the bridge remotely, but the red signal remained on.

The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants had received at least nine trouble tickets since Oct. 27 alone warning that the bridge was not being operated properly. The two companies had received at least 23 such complaints about the bridge in the past year.

On Nov. 19, a rail crew reported that the tracks had failed to lock properly. Another crew reported a malfunction merely 8 hours before the accident.

Nevertheless, Conrail continued to operate the bridge, and CSX Corporation continued to run 80-car trains filled with toxic chemicals along the bridge, which is in a populated area.

“The entire surrounding neighborhood became engulfed in a toxic cloud of vinyl chloride fumes,” the lawsuit reads. “Nearby residents described this as a fog so thick that ‘you couldn’t see the person next to you.'”

While it is unknown as yet what the long-term effects of the vinyl chloride spill may be on the environment, or whether any of the chemical exposure will cause cancer in any of the local residents — and it will take years to find out. The residents are seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the two companies.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Ancient, Rickety Railroad Bridge Caused Toxic Spill, Dozens Say,” Kevin Koeninger, Dec. 14, 2012

EPA lawsuit may set safer standards for oil refinery emissions

Posted on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 4:19 pm    

Louisiana is home to 17 oil refineries, the third-highest number in the United States. With two of the nation’s ten heaviest polluting refineries, Louisiana faces more refinery emissions than any other state except Texas.

It is no surprise, then, that a Louisiana group joined a coalition of Gulf Coat organizations in a recent environmental lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit is aimed at securing and enforcing stricter air pollution standards for oil refineries.

The lawsuit claims that the EPA has failed to fulfill its duty to protect people living near refineries from health risks associated with high emissions. The Clean Air Act dictates that the EPA must review regulatory standards every eight years to minimize risks. This also helps regulations to stay consistent with the emissions-reducing capabilities of the latest technology.

“It is not fair for any of our children to automatically start life with a higher risk of cancer and other disease just because of where they are born and grow up,” said an attorney representing the coalition.

American oil refineries report releasing about 40 million pounds of air pollutants each year. These emissions include cyanide, formaldehyde and benzene, which has been found to cause cancer. These emissions also contribute to dangerous ozone pollution.

Even more alarming are recent studies showing that refineries tend to drastically underreport their emissions. The EPA makes and enforces emissions rules based on these flawed estimates when actual emissions can be up to 100 times higher than refineries report.

In response to threats of a lawsuit, the EPA submitted new emissions regulations to the White House for review in August, before the suit was filed. If those proposed rules are approved and enacted it could be a powerful first step toward cleaning up Louisiana’s air and protecting its residents from pollution and illness.

Source: The Institute for Southern Studies, “Community groups sue EPA over oil refinery pollution,” Sue Sturgis, Oct. 2, 2012

Guilty plea for pollution violations, potentially harmful to humans

Posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 4:19 pm    

Our Louisiana readers understand that soil pollution can eventually pollute the surrounding waters through rain runoff. Water pollution can eventually contaminate riverbeds, lakebeds and eventually the ocean. Air pollution can harm humans as well as plant and animal life. Our state has laws in place to minimize pollution and to hold polluters responsible for their actions or inactions which may violate those laws.

Recently, a Louisiana company pled guilty to a violation of the Clean Water Act. A Houma company, CTCO Shipyard of Louisiana, LLC, pled guilty to a series of environmental law violations. The company was sentenced in federal court to pay fines of up to $500,000 and up to a five year probation period.

According to the court records, the company is required to test its effluent (liquid discharge) once per week to make certain that its levels of certain toxic elements are within the allowable levels. Further, the company is supposed to submit a report to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), showing the test results.

The Department of Justice court record shows that the company did not conduct the tests or submit the reports from June 2008 through January 2010. An Environmental Protection Agency agent who testified said that the “company tried to hide its illegal discharges of raw sewage into the Intracoastal Waterway Canal…”

There were no reports of illness or injury made at this time, however, pollutants have been known to have long-term as well as short-term consequences.

The DEQ involved in the case is charged with working with the federal government to protect the environment and human health.

Source: Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, “HOUMA COMPANY PLEADS GUILTY IN FEDERAL COURT TO FELONY VIOLATION OF CLEAN WATER ACT,” March 28, 2012

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