A proposed Louisiana law expected to be voted on this week seeks to ban legacy lawsuits from the state. Legacy lawsuits are brought by landowners who claim that their property has become polluted and/or contaminated due to oil and gas operations, even if the damage was incurred many years ago. The term legacy is used because land owners can pursue a claim against former operators, even if they have gone out of business, or even seek damages from multiple leaseholders. If the current Louisiana legislation is passed into law, many property owners whose rights have been violated by big oil and gas companies will be left without recompense for their losses.
Oil and gas companies that hold leases on oil fields are required by law to remediate well and drilling sites prior to the end of their leases, yet many companies fail to do so. In states like Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, where oil and gas drilling has been a major part of the states' histories, countless landowners are still suffering from environmental contamination incurred on their properties years ago. In many instances, leftover leaks and spills, contaminated rust or scale from abandoned pipes and other equipment or even naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) can continue to contaminate soil, vegetation and groundwater in areas where drilling once occurred.
Part of the reason why these landowners are still experiencing problems is that many state legislatures were slow to pass laws allowing property holders to seek remediation for their land from oil and gas companies. In many instances, landowners have been awarded punitive damages in excess of the cost of land remediation as a means of deterring other drilling companies from destroying property. In perhaps the most famous of these cases, Corbello vs. Iowa Production, landowners sued Shell Oil Company for failing to restore a leased property on which it had operated an oil and gas terminal for many years. In that case, the judge awarded the plaintiffs $33 million, although the remediated land was worth just $100,000. The extra damages were reportedly levied against Shell to represent the costs that would be incurred in keeping contaminated groundwater on the leased property from infiltrating a nearby aquifer which served as the primary water source for Southwest Louisiana.
Now, just when cases like this are finally offering justice to landowners with legitimate grievances, industry lobbyists have nearly secured passage of anti-legacy lawsuit legislation in Louisiana. Without laws protecting homeowners, drilling companies will have little incentive to clean up pollution once their land leases are complete. The result will be devastating to both the environment and those who depend on the land for sustenance and livelihood.
The property contamination lawyers at Arnold & Itkin strongly oppose the passage of laws that would curb property owners' rights to land remediation. If your property was contaminated by oil and gas operators, even if the damage occurred years ago, we may be able to help you receive remediation. Contact our office today for a free consultation.