Shared from the 3/5/2021 American Press eEdition

Landry signs on to coastal lawsuit settlement

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry ruffled the feathers of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association with his authorized agreement to release Freeport-McMoRan from all claims for past impacts to the Louisiana coast.

In return, Freeport will deposit an initial $15 million into a state escrow, followed by payments of $4.25 million annually for the next 20 years, according to the attorney general.

The settlement was announced at a press conference Thursday.

LMOGA and LOGA issued a joint statement in an email to the American Press: “It is disappointing that some elected officials have sided with plaintiff’s attorneys in support of job-killing lawsuits.”

Landry said this action does nothing in regards to jobkilling lawsuits that hamper business growth.

He said he trusts the Legislature will defend private operators who were compliant with federal, state and local laws and regulations. He calls the oil and gas industry “the lifeblood of this state.”

About five years ago, the Cameron Parish Police Jury met to file suit against more than 100 oil and gas companies accused of damaging the state’s coast by failing to follow state law in drilling wells, building canals, disposing of waste and restoring the lands and wetlands to the condition they were before operations. Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas was one of those companies.

Oil companies generally argue that, at the time, they were operating within the state’s laws and should not be held accountable.

An email regarding the press conference from the Grow Louisiana Coalition says the “best hope for protecting and building Louisiana’s Working Coast is partnering with an active, safely operating oil and natural gas industry.”

Landry’s office intervened in 39 coastal permits filed throughout three different parishes, Plaquemines, Jefferson and Cameron.

“At the time the industry was threatened with continuous fragmented lawsuits,” he said. “It was necessary to intervene to ensure a fair and orderly resolution of claims and to halt the growing number of new lawsuits.”

Landry said that the intervention and resulting Memorandum of Understanding signed between the state and Freeport represents a protection of the rights of the people to direct public policy through “duly elected officers while ensuring the state’s coast is sustainable.”

“I have always believed we can balance the tremendous benefits of the oil and gas industry which continues to employ thousands of our people and the coastal crisis which threatens Louisiana’s very existence,” Landry said.

Landry said he communicated with the industry five years ago to inform them that he would support their decision: They were free to fully litigate cases or resolve matter apart from litigation.

“I would assist if and only if the resolution addressed certain criteria,” he said. “It must be good for Louisiana and productive for the coast. Monetary amounts must be spent on the coast and consistent with the state’s master plan.

It must contain some sort of regulatory or credited relief for the industry, and it must be final and create certainty for the industry moving forward, an action to bring finality and allow everyone a seat at the table.”

After his press conference, he said he wished he could post signs at I-10 and I-20 to “welcome the oil and gas industry to the state and the jobs it creates.”

He maintains that the federal government through the Army Corp of Engineers’ policies has contributed to coastal problems and his office continues to look for ways to hold them accountable.

As for the possibility that this resolution will provide a template for other suits, Landry said it is dependent on what the legislature does.

According to the Louisiana 2020 U.S. Entergy and Employment Report, fuels employs 79,034 workers. Mining and extraction represents 44 percent of fuels jobs. LMOGA reported that oil and gas operations support approximately one out of every nine of the state’s jobs and accounted for $4.5 billion of state and local tax revenue in 2019.

Freeport is a Phoenixbased mining company that formerly had its headquarters in New Orleans. The company’s wells account for only four percent of the wells drilled in the coastal zone since 1911, according to a 2019 nola.com article by Tyler Bridges.

More than 2,300 square miles have washed away along the Louisiana coast in the past 75 years.

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