July 28, 2016 11:18 AM
District Attorney Keith Stutes
Photo by Robin May

[UPDATE: Since this story was published, KATC has obtained and posted the lawsuit. Also, LOGA's response to the suit has been added.]

Keith Stutes, district attorney for the 15th Judicial District, dropped a stunner the morning of July 28, announcing he is pursuing “major litigation” against oil and gas companies for coastal damage in Vermilion Parish.

Stutes says in a press release he aims to recover damages for restoration costs and actual restoration as a result of oil and gas exploration, production and transportation operations that have “caused substantial damages to land and water bodies, geological formations, and cultural and economic opportunities in violation of Louisiana state law, rules and regulations.”

The parishes of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, Lafourche and Cameron have filed similar suits.

The suit was still in the process of being filed when this story was posted.

From Stutes' press release:
The Louisiana Legislature established a statutory standard for protecting the coast of Louisiana with the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Law in 1978. Prior to the passage of this legislation, various rules, regulations, field orders and orders by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Stream Control Commission were required to be followed by those in oil and gas exploration, production and transportation activities.

Under the 1978 law, parishes in the Coastal Zone Management Area could also establish local Coastal Zone Management plans. Vermilion chose not to do so, and, when parishes do not have a local plan, the 1978 law designates the local District Attorney as the public official who is obligated to pursue recovery of damages that occur in the coastal zone for violations of the law.

“While we all recognize the tremendous impact oil and gas activities have had on our local economy, every person who has ever fished, hunted and enjoyed the natural beauty of Vermilion Parish is aware of the environmental issues caused by oil and gas activities,” Stutes said.

“The cleanup and restoration of these damages will create new and enormous economic and employment opportunities for the people of Vermilion Parish…restoring our coast and environment is an important economic impetus for our citizens,” Stutes continued. “Moreover, as District Attorney, it is my fiduciary responsibility to see to it this law is enforced uniformly and the law is made to work with no show of favoritism.” ...

“The message is simple: clean up the mess that you have made and restore our coast to its original condition,” Stutes concluded.

The Vermilion lawsuit contends the named defendants did not comply with the law and/or rules and orders resulting in identifiable, specific, and substantial harm and that the defendants failed to comply with permits the defendants obtained to engage in coastal activities or failed to obtain coastal permits at all.

In all instances, it is contended the defendants failed to revegetate, refill, clean and detoxify and restore the impacted area to its original condition as required by state law.
The 15th Judicial District includes Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes.

The law firms of Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello, based in Baton Rouge, and Lafayette's Broussard & David represent Stutes. The lawsuit names the following 45 defendants:

AMERICAN TRADING AND PRODUCTION CORPORATION
APACHE CORPORATION
BASF CORPORATION
BAY COQUILLE, INC.
BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY
BRAMMER ENGINEERING, INC.
CAMEX OPERATING COMPANY
CAMEX, INC.
CASTEX ENERGY, INC.
CENTURY EXPLORATION NEW ORLEANS, LLC
COLUMBIA GULF TRANSMISSION, LLC
CONLEY P. SMITH OPERATING COMPANY
CONLEY P. SMITH, LLC
CONOCOPHILLIPS COMPANY
ENABLE OKLAHOMA INTRASTATE TRANSMISSION, LLC
ENERGEN RESOURCES CORPORATION
ENERGYQUEST II, LLC
EP ENERGY E&P COMPANY, L.P.
EXCHANGE OIL & GAS CORPORATION
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION
FREEPORT-MCMORAN OIL & GAS L.L.C.
GRAHAM ROYALTY, LTD.
GULFPORT ENERGY CORPORATION
HESS CORPORATION
HILCORP ENERGY COMPANY
JANEX OIL CO., INC.
LATEX-STAR, INC.
LLOG EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION COMPANY, L.L.C.
MANTI EXPORATION OPERATING, LLC
MCMORAN OIL & GAS LLC
MOBIL OIL EXPLORATION & PRODUCING SOUTHEAST INC.
MOSBACHER ENERGY COMPANY
NOBLE ENERGY, INC.
PACIFIC ENTERPRISES OIL COMPANY
PETROHAWK ENERGY CORPORATION
PETRO-HUNT, L.L.C.
PIONEER NATURAL RESOURCES USA, INC.
QUEST EXPLORATION L.C.C.
SAMSON CONTOUR ENERGY E&P, LLC
SAMSON RESOURCES COMPANY
SHELL OFFSHORE, INC.
SHELL OIL COMPANY
SHORELINE SOUTHEAST LLC
SWEPI LP
TENNESSEE GAS PIPELINE COMPANY, L.L.C.
TEXAS PETROLEUM INVESTMENT COMPANY
THE LOUISIANA LAND AND EXPLORATION COMPANY, L.L.C.
THE MERIDIAN RESOURCE & EXPLORATION LLC
UNION OIL COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
“The energy industry has a longstanding commitment to Louisiana’s environment and the economy. Over the years, oil and gas producers have invested billions in jobs, infrastructure and environmental sustainability projects across the state. Many of those investments are concentrated in Vermilion Parish.”

“That’s why it is so disheartening that the District Attorney and his trial lawyer friends have chosen to put the parish on such a dangerous path ignoring the fact that this misguided effort could have significant economic consequences for many, many workers across the parish who are directly and indirectly supported by the industry.”

“Vermillion [sic] Parish residents should stand up and tell the DA and his trial lawyer friends that they oppose these lawsuits.” “The oil and gas industry is Louisiana’s No. 1 private investor in the state’s environment and coast. These lawsuits will only divert critical time and resources away from the industry’s ongoing support of coastal restoration efforts.”

“Residents should also tell the DA and his trial lawyer friends that these lawsuits are unnecessary. Every oil and gas producer in Louisiana operates under the comprehensive regulation of the Department of Natural Resources. Through the department, there is already a rigorous administrative process in place to ensure that each and every coastal use permit in the state is in compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act. Any issues or concerns regarding permit compliance can be addressed through the administrative review process without the excessive delays and exorbitant legal costs that come along with litigation.”

“To ignore these regulations and pursue litigation, without so much as a public hearing on the subject, makes this look much more like a shakedown scheme than a legitimate effort to address flooding or erosion issues.”

“Unfortunately, it seems there are some environmental activists, trial lawyers and politicians in our state who will not be satisfied until every oil and gas worker has been laid off and every well has been stopped.”

“We cannot let that happen. We will continue to vigorously defend our industry and our workers from this ill-conceived and divisive litigation.”
The Independent will continue to follow this breaking story.