Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, introduced substitute language to Senate Bill 731 that would allow farmers and landowners to have their property returned to pre-drilling conditions, while drillers and oil companies would not be held liable for pollution issues they did not have a direct hand in creating. The so-called “legacy cases,” pollution issues dating back decades as a result of conditions created by multiple drillers, have been tied up in the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation for years.
The bill was approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee and now goes to the full Senate for debate.
“The bill allows them (oil companies) to do an omission of regulatory responsibility, without admitting private damage, provides for public hearings at the department (of Natural Resources) upon their admission and makes the process of the public hearing admissible in a court of law,” Allain said.
Allain, a farmer and landowner, said his family farm has experienced issue over the years involving pollutants left behind by drilling companies, or conditions that, while considered “cleaned up,” didn’t meet some state Department of Environmental Quality standards.
“Farmers have expressed to me their concerns over the years about these kinds of issues,” Allain said. “If the (cleanup plan) program that DNR comes up with fits within the regulatory standards that provides for the oil and gas industry to clean up these sites, then there’s no need for oversight because they in compliance with the (current) law. The problem comes in when variances are granted. They’re often granted to allow lower standards. These sites need complete cleanup of all pollutants, not just some.”
Currently the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation has been the landing zone for such cleanup disputes in the past. The office currently has a backlog of 280 such cleanup cases that date back more than a decade.
“Many landowners granted these leases in good faith and hoped their land would be returned in the condition it was found,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers and other landowners don’t want these issues to end up in court, but unless this bill is passed these sites could be in ligation for years and the land unproductive.”
Anderson said the bill also calls for the creation of a multi-jurisdictional oversight committee made up of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Environmental Quality to review mediation issues between landowners and oil companies.