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Oil industry group says legal climate puts business at risk

Written by
Lynda Edwards

The Advertiser

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The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s mood was buoyant Monday when members met at the Petroleum Club of Lafayette.

LOGA president Don Briggs gave a keynote address that celebrated “the biggest oil boom in 40 years,” which he referred to as a “renaissance in our industry that has never happened before.” But also warned that a contentious legal climate and legacy lawsuits could decrease oil industry investment, drilling and work away from Louisiana.

He illustrated this with a clip from Seinfeld in which Kramer sues a coffee maker after he scalds himself with coffee he tried to sneak into a movie theater by stuffing the cup inside his shirt. The crowd roared appreciatively. Then Briggs called on them to help LOGA fight “The Green Army,” individuals and groups who are suing oil companies or are in contentious relationships with oil companies.

A PowerPoint slide listed “The Green Army” as “Gen. Russel Honore, League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, Save Lake Peigneur, South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East Vice PresidentJohn Barry, Jefferson DA, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, Bayou Corne” and an array of other environmental groups.

“We are under attack from these people and we have to push back,” Briggs said.

Briggs added that LOGA wanted to visit “every oil business, every warehouse” and talk with workers about dangers to their livelihood posed by frivolous lawsuits. He told the audience there were pro-tort reform judges favorable to the oil industry who were electable but those electoral races seldom draw crowds of voters.

An audience member asked when state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell was up for re-election. LOGA is currently suing Caldwell.

“In about two years,” Briggs replied. “I can’t go there. We aren’t allowed to endorse candidates.”

Jon Hamilton, a geologist who works for a Lafayette environmental firm, introduced himself to Briggs after the meeting. Hamilton works on cleanups after an oil company mishap, but he can also help figure out whether contamination is the result of an oil company’s work or something else, such as an Army Corps of Engineers project, for example.

“Engineers tend to think a solution can be constructed for every problem; that’s why I became a geologist,” Hamilton said.