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Lawsuit Relief Coming for Louisiana Producers

Louisiana oil and gas producers should be able to put the past behind them -- or at least not be burdened by outsized penalties for past environmental infractions -- now that legislation to curb legacy lawsuits is in the final stretch toward adoption.

HB 618, which is essentially identical to SB 443, another bill favored by the industry (see Daily GPI, April 12), passed the state Senate unanimously and was on its way back to the House for concurrence on an amendment. HB 618 and related legislation, SB 555, were both expected to be heard in the House Tuesday, Don Briggs, chairman of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, told NGI Thursday. He said he expected both to leave the House, bound for the governor's desk.

HB 618 allows a producer to accept liability for the cost of remediating environmental damage while not accepting liability for private claims and additional remediation. It is intended to curb legacy lawsuits for punitive damages by lawsuit-happy landowners and trial lawyers, the industry claims.

"The state's conventional oil and gas drilling activity, largely concentrated in South Louisiana, is well below levels experienced in other states, due in part to the negative perceptions associated with the filing of numerous 'legacy lawsuits,' environmental cases based on claims occurring, in some instances, several decades in the past," Louisiana State University researcher David Dismukes said in a report earlier this year (see Daily GPI, March 1).

"...[I]t's been a long, hard nine months getting to this point, and we're very pleased," Briggs said Thursday. "It took a lot of stars to be aligned so that this happened. There were times, very honestly, that I was ready to throw the towel in because I didn't think we could pass it. When we moved House Bill 618 off the House floor with 80 votes, that was big success. It sent a clear message to the governor's office. Last week when the governor got on board with it, that helped tremendously."

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