Louisiana oil and natural gas interests are rallying support for legislation intended to put the brakes on runaway liability awards for environmental damage in the state. SB 443 is currently in the state Senate Judiciary Committee A, and Louisiana Oil & Gas Association (LOGA) Chairman Don Briggs is hoping the industry will step up to support it.

“Please email or call the committee members…and ask them to vote ‘YES’ on SB 443. Also ask your employees to do the same,” Briggs wrote in a letter on the LOGA website this week.

The bill was expected to be read in the committee Tuesday, but that has likely been delayed until next week, a representative of state Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell, who authored the legislation, told NGI.

As it currently stands, the legislation would allow 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.

As Briggs describes it in his note to the industry, “SB 443 simply allows defendants to stand up and admit responsibility for the regulatory damages without admitting liability for the billions in private claims. This admission helps to create an open and transparent process with a public hearing at DNR [Louisiana Department of Natural Resources] and a plan developed by the state of Louisiana would be admissible at trial.” He said the bill would protect landowner rights while remedying the legacy lawsuit issue that has plagued the energy industry for years.

“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).

In his letter to the industry Briggs said the status quo only benefits lawsuit plaintiffs.

“Those that wish to continue extorting millions of dollars out of the oil and gas industry are hard at work asking committee members to vote against our bill,” Briggs wrote.

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