Louisiana Senate approves House 'legacy lawsuit' bill

05 24, 2012 by Shreveport Times

State senators Wednesday unanimously endorsed a House-passed bill that addresses the civil court side of cleaning up abandoned oil and gas exploration and production sites that polluted landowners' property.

HB618 by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, drew considerable opposition from landowners when it was considered in the House.

Landowners frustrated with not getting their land restored once production was completed have brought civil actions, known as legacy lawsuits, against producers, and some of the suits involve millions of dollars. Often, the drilling leases have been passed among several companies, so identifying the original polluter could be difficult.

There was no opposition in the Senate, where Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said the bill deals with "the civil side that sets up the environmental management" of the legacy lawsuit issue.

Adley's SB555, considered a compromise between landowners and industry officials dealing with the physical side of cleaning up polluted sites, is awaiting a hearing in the House.

Abramson says the purpose of his bill is so "oil and gas companies can admit fault and go out there and clean it up as soon as possible."

The bill says that if an oil or gas company involved in a lawsuit admits liability for the pollution, the Department of Natural Resources' Office of Conservation is to draw up a cleanup plan and submit it to a judge for approval.

Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, questioned Adley about a major difference between the two bills — involvement of the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture in approving a cleanup plan.

Adley said the two bills work together, so the departments mentioned in his bill would be involved in approving the actual cleanup plan that's submitted to a court.

Adley attached a two-page amendment to Abramson's bill in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, so it now goes back to the House for concurrence.

The amendment deals with the landowner granting access to the property so an investigation of the pollution can be performed, doing the environmental testing and setting a 30-day timetable for the testing to be done. It also requires that the responsible party pay all costs of testing and cleanup.

Those provisions were in the original bill but have been restated.

The new provisions would not affect any case that went to court on or before May 15.