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Louisiana Lawsuit Seeks Damages from Pipes, Producers for Katrina

A class action lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is seeking unspecified damages against 11 oil and natural gas pipeline and production companies, alleging their coastal operations in Louisiana destroyed wetlands and allowed Hurricane Katrina to do more damage than it would have otherwise.

The defendants are separated into two groups: pipeline companies and exploration and production companies, and include Shell Oil Co., Koch Pipeline Co., ExxonMobil Corp., BP plc and Chevron Corp.

The lawsuit was filed in Lafayette, LA, which has temporarily taken over the court duties normally done in New Orleans. According to the lawsuit, "over the course of many decades, defendants...have dredged pipeline canals for the purpose of installing pipelines" and located drill sites in the marshlands, resulting in erosion. The plaintiffs are "all persons, businesses and entities in the state of Louisiana who have suffered damages as a result of Hurricane Katrina's winds and storm surge." Damages are being sought for home loss and damage, land loss, death, injuries, loss of business and anything else related to the storm.

The lawsuit was filed by New Orleans-based attorney Val P. Exnicios and attorneys from St. Martin & Williams. Exnicios told The Town Talk, an Alexandria, LA-based newspaper, "There are numerous steps that could have been taken to alleviate the problem," including repairing canals and damming canals no longer in use. He said, "There was no longer the natural barrier that God gave New Orleans."

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association, said the industry is focused now on dealing with damaged infrastructure and their employees and their losses. The industry was "greatly saddened" by what Katrina did, but he said the energy industry was not to blame.

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