Louisiana Levee Group Sues Oil Companies Over Wetlands

About 100 oil companies including units of Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and BP Plc were sued by a Louisiana flood protection group seeking the repair of coastal storm buffers.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East claims the oil companies degraded storm protections by dredging more than 10,000 miles of canals for pipelines and by conducting exploration activities in coastal wetlands, according to a complaint filed today in state court in Orleans Parish.

The authority sued for damages that it said can be used to repair the environmental buffer zone that helps protect the New Orleans region from catastrophic storm surge during hurricanes.

“The increasing intrusion of saltwater stresses the vegetation that holds wetlands together, weakening -- and ultimately killing -- that vegetation,” Gladstone N. Jones III, a lawyer for the plaintiff, said in court papers.

“Thus weakened, the remaining soil is washed away even by minor storms,” Jones said. “The product of this network is an ecosystem so seriously diseased that its complete demise is inevitable if no action is taken.”

Gas Activities

The U.S. Geological Survey cites oil and gas activities among the primary causes of the loss of an estimated 1,900 square miles of coastal lands Louisiana since the early 1930s, according to the complaint.

“This is not a new issue because the conversation about the wetlands we’ve lost and who is responsible has been going on for years and years,” Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said in a telephone interview. Many of the firms sued by the levee group are members of his organization.

Louisiana’s wetlands have been degraded by a number of factors including hurricane storm surges and the diversion of the Mississippi River, which formerly replenished coastal wetlands with silt deposits, he said. Oil and pipeline companies have helped set up a trust fund that uses part of the state’s oil royalties to restore damaged coastal areas, he said.

A similar measure to divert part of the royalties from oil and gas activities in federal waters is pending in the U.S. Senate.

‘Important’ Wetlands

“We’re going to fight this suit as an industry,” John said. “Our people live here and work here, and our infrastructure is here, too, so the wetlands are as important and precious to us as anyone else.”

Scott Dean, a BP spokesman, and Todd Spitler, ExxonMobil’s spokesman for downstream operations, declined to comment on the litigation. Davy Kong, ConocoPhillips’s spokesman, said the company hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The case is Board of Commissioners of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, 2013-6911, Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, Louisiana.

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