Legacy lawsuit compromise advances

05 22, 2012 by Shreveport Times

A compromise between the oil and gas industry and landowners who want energy production pollution cleaned up on their property on how to clean it up is headed to the House for consideration.

The Senate voted 30-0 Monday for Senate Bill 555 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, which spells out steps that enable energy producers to admit fault and clean up "legacy" sites — ones that have existed for years and possibly were caused by oil or gas companies that are no longer in business.

Their admission for cleanup purposes, though, could not be used as an admission in a civil suit for damages.

The compromise bill includes items both sides of the issue want.

Oil and gas companies have complained that they have been dragged into court and had to pay lawyer fees when no actual damage exits. The bill allows for them to go to court and have an investigation of the property to determine if there is damage.

Landowners have complained that the Office of Conservation in the Department of Natural Resources is too close to the industry, so any cleanup plan they developed could be less than the landowner desires.

SB555 calls for DNR, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Agriculture to serve on a committee to judge whether cleanup plans are appropriate. With their approval, a plan would go directly to the court handling the lawsuit.

Adley told the Senate that it needs to also approve a House-passed bill, HB618, by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans.

"The Abramson bill deals with what goes on in the courtroom," he said. "Mine deals with developing the plan."

Adley said that there's no conflict between the bills because SB555 deals with natural resources law and HB618 is deals with civil suits.

Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said "countless hours went into making this workable plan." He credited freshman Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, for standing up for landowners and helping forge the bill.