Cajun family's battle with big oil featured in NYT

by Heather Miller

The New York Times details Lafayette attorney Warren Perrin and his family's years-long feud with a Chevron subsidiary over land contamination in Erath along the Henry Hub, a saga that in more recent months has taken a bitter twist' toward an unprecedented legal battle.

A little more than six months ago, Lafayette attorney Warren Perrin and more than 70 of his family members sued Texaco for hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental damage the family discovered on its 60-acre tract along the Henry Hub in Erath, land Texaco has been leasing and from the family for almost 70 years.

But in what The New York Times calls a "bitter twist" to what began as something "not all that rare in these industry-heavy parts," Sabine Pipe Line, a Chevron subsidiary (as is Texaco), is swinging back with the strong arm of a federal law that allows energy companies to take property from landowners who threaten to disrupt work the federal government deems necessary.

The timing of Sabine Pipe Line's attempt to invoke the federal Natural Gas Act and expropriate the 60 acres of land Perrin and his family inherited has prompted a one-of-a-kind legal battle that could have long-lasting implications for landowners struggling to clear their land of industry contamination.

According to The New York Times, Perrin - a proud Cajun who successfully lobbied the queen of England years ago for a formal apology over the expulsion of the Acadians - contends that a win for the Chevron subsidiary in this case would serve as a shield for oil companies facing costly environmental cleanups. Sabine's offer to purchase the 60 acres of land for a little less than $1 million is a steal when paired with the $200 million in damages the family claims Texaco caused in rural Vermilion Parish:

Mr. Perrin is one of the 75 or so heirs of Aristide Broussard, who bought 3,000 acres here in Vermilion Parish at the end of the 19th century. The land was perfect for growing sugar cane, raising cattle and trapping alligators. That it was also perfect for drilling the Broussards found out four decades later, when the Texas Company discovered a big deposit underneath.

The company bought the mineral rights, but it had bigger plans, and in 1942 asked to lease an 80-acre plot in one of Mr. Broussard's cow pastures.

Even though some members of the family worked on the property - some still do - they have never entirely been aware of what went on there. They knew that there were some places in the pasture where grass did not grow, and that pipelines crossed their land so thickly that Texaco simply paid them not to graze cattle in certain areas.

That Sabine had been operating a pipeline across the street since 1964 the family knew. They knew that in 1990 Sabine began managing the so-called Henry Hub, an interchange of gas lines so crucial that it is where the prices are set for natural gas futures based on the traffic there. What the family did not know is that part of this hub had migrated onto their property. And they are still unsure of just how much of it is on their property.

But it was not until a legal argument broke out between Texaco and another company working at the site that the family learned that one of the wells had blown out in 1997.

As the fight intensified, the heirs of Aristide Broussard hired environmental experts, who found leaky saltwater pits on the property, countless aluminum pellets and radioactive material.

In June, Sabine sent a letter to the family, saying the 14-year legal fight with Texaco was threatening the continued operation of one of the most important natural gas pipeline hubs in the country. The family could agree to sell the land, the letter said, or be forced to do so.

Read the full New York Times coverage here.