BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The oil and gas industry and landowners said Thursday they have reached a compromise in long-running disputes over how to handle the clean-up of environmental damage done in drilling years ago.
Gov. Bobby Jindal announced the legislative proposal, surrounded by industry leaders, lawmakers and representatives of some of the largest landowners involved in the lawsuits.
The bill to be filed by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, would change the complex legal process for dealing with so-called "legacy lawsuits" that seek millions of dollars in damage claims and that the oil and gas companies claim are inhibiting energy exploration.
"We can no longer let these lawsuits needlessly delay cleanup, investment and timely resolution to disputes," Jindal said.
The Republican governor said the proposal, among other things, would spell out the types of damage that can be recovered in the lawsuits and the standards for recovery. It also would define contamination to clarify what type of environmental damage is covered for recovery.
The bill hasn't been filed yet and will need backing from both the House and Senate before it could take effect.
Jindal described the proposal as a way to speed environmental remediation and send a signal to the country that energy exploration is welcome in Louisiana.
"I think it strikes the right balance. It protects the interest of our landowners. It protects our environmental interests in our state, while at the same time ensures that industry is not being exposed to frivolous, overly expensive litigation that is unrelated to the merit," Jindal said.
Compromises over the lawsuits have been announced at least twice before, in 2006 and 2012, but follow-up court rulings have revived disagreements. Adley said the legislation he's proposing should address issues raised by the courts in both areas of law involved.
The issue is acrimonious each time it comes before the Legislature, putting lawmakers in the middle of big-money disagreements between wealthy landowners and one of the state's largest industries.
Legacy lawsuits, often totaling millions of dollars, are filed by landowners who leased their property to energy companies and claim environmental damage from the drilling, such as contamination of ground water resources.
The oil and gas industry says the lawsuits discourage industry expansion in the state, and they have accused trial lawyers of dragging out the lawsuits to maximize profits. Landowners have accused the companies of trying to keep from paying what they owe for contamination.
"The bottom line is we want our property cleaned up, and we think we've reached that compromise," said Paul Frey, executive director of the Louisiana Landowners Association.
Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, agreed.
"We want to be able to go out and clean up these sites," he said.