Louisiana flood control authority to sue major oil, gas companies, seeking wetland restoration

Louisiana - The board that oversees the levees in the New Orleans region filed suit in state court Wednesday against about 100 leading oil and gas companies asking that they repair damage done by the industry’s network of access roads and pipeline canals, which has contributed to the loss of thousands of acres a year of wetlands since the 1930s.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority is asking that the oil and gas companies restore the wetlands that once acted as an essential buffer against storms. Without that buffer, the authority said that too much pressure is placed on its levees, which were designed for protection against flooding of the Mississippi River, not as a bulwark against the Gulf of Mexico.

The flood authority’s lawsuit marks another chapter in a state where politics and oil have been closely entwined for decades. Onshore oil production in Louisiana began in the early 20th century and peaked at 1.35 million barrels a day in 1970, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“For nearly a century, the oil and gas industry has continuously and relentlessly traversed, dredged, drilled and extracted in coastal Louisiana,” the flood protection authority said in its lawsuit. “It reaps enormous financial gain . . . Yet it also ravages Louisiana’s coastal landscape.”

The authority adds that “an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals slashes the coastline at every angle, functioning as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction.” It said that the canal network allowed “corrosive saltwater” to flow into interior coastal lands, “killing vegetation and carrying away mountains of soil.”

“What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner,” the lawsuit asserts.

It isn’t clear how much it would cost to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and reefs, but the sums could easily run well into the billions, experts estimate. The flood authority is asking the companies to backfill and re-vegetate canals, and reconstruct shorelines and banks.

The United States Geological Survey has cited oil and gas activities as one of the main reasons for coastal land loss. It has estimated that since 1932, the state has lost more than 1,900 square miles of coastal lands, enough to cover the state of Delaware

The lawsuit claims include negligence, strict liability, public nuisance, private nuisance, breach of contract and breach of the natural servitude of drain. It says that the oil and gas companies have the obligation to restore coastal land loss under The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Louisiana’s Civil Code and Louisiana’s Mineral Code, as well as other state and federal regulations.

One of the biggest oil companies operating in Louisiana for half a century was Texaco, which around 1930 acquired water-covered marsh areas from the state; the company granted small shares of its leases to family members and political associates of the populist politician Huey Long, who was then governor. Long, who later became a Louisiana senator, was assassinated in 1935. Texaco was acquired by Chevron in 2001.

The lawsuit is being handled by four private Louisiana firms.