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."
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, April 22, 2014:
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.