BRIGGS: Commissioner’s Authority Upheld
So many times our companies walk into the courtroom and look at the next few years fly by as they spend their time in painfully draining litigation. However, with the recent refusal by the Louisiana Supreme Court to consider an appeal by St. Tammany Parish and the group of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, the industry can rest easy, knowing regulation remains in the hands of the proper authorities.
Fueled by a national movement, St. Tammany Parish and the group of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany contested the authority of the Commissioner of Conservation to issue a drilling permit to Helis Oil & Gas Co. The effort in St. Tammany was led by outside activists and alarm was exacerbated by misinformation surrounding the process of Hydraulic Fracturing. These activists held no concern for Louisiana citizens, their agenda against fossil fuels was clear.
Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court ended the two-year journey when they voted 4-3 to not take up the parish’s appeal. This appeal was an attempt to reverse a district court ruling outlining that the St. Tammany government cannot use its zoning regulations to halt the Helis drilling project. The movement grew from fear and did not take into account the stringent regulations that govern hydraulic fracturing processes within the state.
Our industry is regulated thoroughly by the Louisiana Office of Conservation. Their office is comprised of top minds that know industry, that know the land, and most importantly know how to regulate to protect the state. Industry simultaneously belongs to a nationwide organization called “FracFocus.” They are a national chemical disclosure registry that is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Companies. The multiple regulatory bodies were created to ensure safety and efficiency throughout the exploration and production process and to ensure continued industry investment.
However, when a national movement backs you, the capacity to realize the importance of local industry investment, is vastly limited. These types of movements will focus on creating alarm to further their agenda, regardless of the facts. Had the activists listened, they would have learned with over a dozen fracturing operations nearby, there have been no environmental or health and safety problems.
Hydraulic fracturing has been utilized by industry since the 1940s in more than 1 million wells in the United States to help produce oil and natural gas. Over the years the process has been refined to ensure safety and accuracy.
Hydraulic fracturing enables industry investment, which does not only spur economic development for the community but it also allows the landowners to utilize their rights. Aside from the issue of a permit to drill, the landowner has a right to develop the minerals he owns. Not allowing him to do so would result in the taking of his minerals and right to develop them. This decision by the Court preserves the rights of landowners that have been stifled by this drawn-out controversy.
This was an important win for the Louisiana oil and gas industry when the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal by those who challenged the authority of the Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation, to award a permit to Helis Oil & Gas Co. This decision solidifies fact. Local government cannot usurp the regulation authority of the Commissioner.