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What is it with NOLA Federal Judges and Big Oil?

Posted by feww on February 14, 2015

NOLA federal judge dismisses wetlands damage lawsuit against 88 oil and gas companies

A New Orleans federal judge, U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, has dismissed a wetlands damage lawsuit by SLFPAE, a levee authority, that sought to force 88 oil, gas and pipeline companies to repair or pay for damages to wetlands.

[SLFPAE is the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority (East), which covers three consolidated districts in NOLA: East Jefferson Levee District, Orleans Levee District, and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District.]

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2013 by SLFPAE, contended that the energy companies had dug more than 10,000 miles of oil and gas canals and pipelines through Louisiana’s fragile wetlands, destroying the ecosystem and reducing the effectiveness of the recently-rebuilt levee system that protects most of metro New Orleans from catastrophic flooding.

“The product of this network is an ecosystem so seriously diseased that its complete demise is inevitable if no action is taken,” said the suit.

The suit attempted to get the defendants to either repair the damage to the compromised environmental buffer zone, or pay damages to the authority to improve the levee system.

However, the Judge said in her 49-page ruling that SLFPA didn’t have enough legal standing to justify a financial claim against the companies.

“We are gratified by this ruling to dismiss this ill-conceived, unwise and divisive litigation, which we have contended all along was nothing more than an attempt to subvert the existing legal and regulatory processes,” said Greg Beuerman, a spokesperson for Shell, Chevron and BP, all defendants in the suit.

“We appreciate the judge’s ruling and are pleased that this frivolous lawsuit has come to an end,” said the deputy communications director for Gov. Bobby [NO-GO Zones] Jindal.

Plaintiff initially named 149 defendants.However, only 88 defendants remain in this litigation, according to the court documents.

Factual Background [from the 49-page court-ruling – Case 2:13-cv-05410-NJB-DEK Document 529 Filed 02/13/15 ]

Defendants are eighty-eight oil and gas companies operating in what Plaintiff refers to as the “Buffer Zone.”

The Buffer Zone “extends from East of the Mississippi River through the Breton Sound Basin, the Biloxi Marsh, and the coastal wetlands of eastern New Orleans and up to Lake St. Catherine.”

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ oil and gas operations have led to coastal erosion in the Buffer Zone, making south Louisiana more vulnerable to severe weather and flooding. According to Plaintiff, “[c]oastal lands have for centuries provided a crucial buffer zone between south Louisiana’s communities and the violent wave action and storm surge that tropical storms and hurricanes transmit from the Gulf of Mexico.” However, “[h]undreds of thousands of acres of coastal lands that once protected south Louisiana are now gone as a result of oil and gas activities.” Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have “dredged a network of canals to access oil and gas wells and to transport the many products and by-products of oil and gas production.” This canal network, in conjunction with “the altered hydrology associated with oil and gas activities,” has caused vegetation die-off, sedimentation inhibition, erosion, and submergence—all leading to coastal land loss.

In addition to the initial dredging, Plaintiff maintains that Defendants “exacerbate direct land loss by failing to maintain the canal network and banks of the canals that Defendants have dredged, used, or otherwise overseen.”

This failure has “caused both the erosion of the canal banks and expansion beyond their originally permitted widths and depths of the canals comprising that network.”

Looking beyond the alleged effects of the canal network, Plaintiff identifies ten other oil and gas activities that, it claims, “drastically inhibit the natural hydrological patterns and processes of the coastal lands”—road dumps, ring levees, drilling activities, fluid withdrawal, seismic surveys, marsh buggies, spoil disposal/ dispersal, watercraft navigation, impoundments, and propwashing/ maintenance dredging.

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