Â The expansive greenery now resembles a museum of abandoned oil work. Saltwater brine tanks sit leaking on several acres, the holes patched with nothing more than cotton gloves and broom handles. Pools of oil are as commonplace as clovers.
Â The oil companies Dore has contracted with since he purchased the land, as well as those who worked it previously since 1933, have left their marks. Dore has taken many of them to court, wanting restitution for the damages. This kind of action is becoming more common in the judicial system. Some argue legacy site litigation is the new tobacco or asbestos ' the coveted trophy of trial lawyers.
The Louisiana Legislature first got involved in 2003, after the state Supreme Court affirmed a $33 million property damage award in Corbello v. Iowa Production. Some lawmakers saw a disturbing trend in the judgment: Landowners were not required to use the money for clean-up and the courts were beating up on oil companies by awarding huge sums, thus creating an unfriendly business climate.
As a result, the Legislature adopted the "Corbello bill," which requires the feuding parties to work out their differences with the state Office of Conservation. Once a plan and monetary figure are brokered, funds are placed in a court registry and used solely for clean-up. Anything left over goes back to the oil company. Most importantly, the law can also be applied retroactively, meaning in theory it could impact older cases, according to Baton Rouge Republican Rep. William Daniel, author of the legislation.
The passage of that bill three years ago was shady and heated. Daniel recalls daily meetings between constituencies that didn't even want to look at each other. Gov. Mike Foster got involved and, with a bit of sleight of hand, prompted a last-minute membership change on a key Senate committee to ensure passage.
After all that turmoil, the law was plagued with loopholes. For starters, it only addressed groundwater. In response, lawyers simply excluded it from their suits. Additionally, not long after the law was enacted, the First Circuit ruled that it didn't apply to a major case, and the courts have been reluctant to apply it retroactively ever since.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
"I don't see any evidence that the bill has accomplished anything, other than to give aid and comfort to independent oil producers," says Michael Veron, a Lake Charles attorney who has argued both sides of the issue in court, most notably for the plaintiffs in the Corbello case.
Now Daniel, along with Sen. Robert Adley, a Democrat from Benton, is back with Corbello II to pick up the pieces during the ongoing regular session. The legislation wasn't available at deadline, but Daniel says it will basically mirror the original bill. This time, however, it will seek to include all matters of contamination.
It's already being characterized as a vehicle for independent oil, but Daniel disputes the generalization, arguing that landowners have sway in the bill as well.
Â "Plaintiffs would still be able to pursue other civil action under the legislation," he says. "We want to make sure that we preserve the right of individuals to access the court system."
Still, the divisions run deep: Independent oil would rather take its chances with the Office of Conservation, where delays will be long and faces friendly. Landowners have serious doubts and want to make sure they can use the courts to enforce contracts. Trail lawyers are concerned about smaller judgments and fewer billable hours.Â
The debate has become so heated that a group of landowners has combined forces ' under the name of Property Owners for Louisiana Land and Water Restoration ' to make a major media buy to run commercials statewide. It depicts a man on his front porch in a swing, questioning the integrity of oil companies in the state. "We want large oil companies to come here, but they have an obligation to restore the land and water they harm," says Ken Killen, a self-proclaimed businessman and property owner and the narrator of the 60-second spot.Â Â
Gov. Kathleen Blanco surprised many when she recently weighed in on the issue ' less than a month after speaking at the annual meeting of the Independent Oil and Gas Association. Blanco told lawmakers that the huge awards resulting from legacy litigation had "chilled oil and gas exploration."
After her remarks, LIOGA President Don Briggs positioned the bill as a winner for both oil and landowners. He says the economy is suffering because of the feeding frenzy and something has to be done soon.
"It's a compromise and an important step for the state," Briggs says.
If there is indeed a compromise on the table, not everyone is confident it will last. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat, has been pursuing this issue for more than two years. He filed legislation last year that would have forced oil companies to take responsibility for damages; it also demanded that landowners use their judgment for cleanup and encouraged mediation. After one volatile hearing, the bill was dead.
Gautreaux says he was "surprised" when Blanco overlooked all of his work and opted to go with another senator to author the legislation, even though he is one of her handpicked committee chairmen. He says he will give the new Corbello bill the benefit of the doubt but fears that Louisiana's sweetheart industry will reverse the tide of compromise back in its direction. Â Â Â Â Â
"Whatever the oil companies want us to do, we do," Gautreaux says. "Louisiana doesn't get any respect from other states because of it. People tell oil companies if they want to be abusive, go to Louisiana, because other states won't let them get away with it."
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.