This is what’s known as “career suicide.” It’s also probably the best way to send Lafayette’s dominant industry packing to Texas.
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 list of companies the suit names as defendants is as follows…
AMERICAN TRADING AND PRODUCTION CORPORATION
BAY COQUILLE, INC.
BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY
BRAMMER ENGINEERING, INC.
CAMEX OPERATING COMPANY
CASTEX ENERGY, INC.
CENTURY EXPLORATION NEW ORLEANS, LLC
COLUMBIA GULF TRANSMISSION, LLC
CONLEY P. SMITH OPERATING COMPANY
CONLEY P. SMITH, LLC
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
HILCORP ENERGY COMPANY
JANEX OIL CO., 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
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
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
Stutes, a Republican, is relatively new as the DA in Lafayette; he replaced Democrat Mike Harson, who was voted out of office in November of 2014 after a nasty scandal involving the DA’s office making a practice of “fixing” DWI tickets for folks with connections and a few hundred bucks laying around was exposed. Since taking office Stutes has made himself a reputation as a hard-ass, and also something of a reputation as somebody who doesn’t play well with others; in the spring he sued the Lafayette Consolidated Government for the sin of cutting his budget, though the suit was later dropped.
Now he’s going after the oil industry with a coastal lawsuit. And he’s hired Richard Broussard, a personal injury lawyer in Lafayette, to pursue the case. We couldn’t find any record of campaign contributions from Broussard to Stutes, though there aren’t any disclosure reports from this year in the state Board of Ethics system. In fact, Broussard, a frequent campaign donor to both sides (he donated to both Scott Angelle and John Bel Edwards in the governor’s election last year), actually gave a few bucks to Harson in the past.
This isn’t likely to sit well with the oil and gas industry in Lafayette, but one longtime resident of that part of the state will likely be secretly pleased about it. That would be Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s attorney general, who has intervened in suits like this already as a means of stifling some of the runaway demands private attorneys working on behalf of the parishes that have filed them have made. Landry has claimed that his office supersedes those claims made by the coastal lawsuit plaintiffs, and some analysts have seen his actions as akin to commandeering the wheel of a runaway bus as a means of stopping it.
Now Landry has access to yet another of these suits, and he’s in a position to resolve them in such a way as to make himself a hero in time for the 2019 election against Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has also intervened in the coastal lawsuits.