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Collapsing Marsh Dwarfs BP Oil Blowout as Ecological Disaster

Posted on: March 3rd, 2014 by restoreit

Collapsing Marsh Dwarfs BP Oil Blowout as Ecological Disaster

Newsweek

By Ken Wells
August 18, 2010

Claude Luke throttles down his 21- foot aluminum work boat. Off to the left, the snout of an alligator disappears near the mouth of a watery gash in the Louisiana marshland.

The 51-year-old Cajun crab fishermen is touring the epicenter of an unfolding environmental disaster that dwarfs the BP Plc spill and predates it by decades, according to state scientists and environmentalists. If unchecked, the destruction threatens to undermine the world’s seventh largest estuary and one of the most important U.S. energy corridors.

His boat idles near a canal dredged more than two decades ago for a petroleum pipeline. Back then it was about 15 feet (4 1/2 meters) wide. Now it sprawls 100 feet wide, opening this once-protected upland marsh to toxic salt water. Not far away, Luke nods toward a water tower visible across about 2 miles (3 kilometers) of almost open water.

“You used to be able to walk there from here,” says Luke, who moonlights as a warden on the private Harry Bourg Corp. preserve deep in Louisiana’s delta. “Before the oil companies came, this was good, solid marsh.”

More than half the 17,000 acres (6,600 hectares) of marshland purchased about 80 years ago by Bourg, a barely literate muskrat trapper, have been lost to erosion and subsidence, according to engineering surveys. The inheritance of Bourg’s descendants is vanishing under a profusion of these runaway canals. They were dug to lay pipelines or float in equipment for the drilling of 90 oil and gas wells that made Bourg one of the wealthiest men in South Louisiana before he died in 1963.

Coastal Crisis

Long before BP’s blowout menaced the Gulf of Mexico, an oil industry-related coastal crisis of another kind began unfolding all over the Mississippi River coastal delta. Dredging for navigation, oil and gas drilling and pipeline construction has ripped apart the estuary’s fragile system of fresh and saltwater marshes.

Between 1901, when drilling began in Louisiana, and the 1980s, the oil and gas industry laid tens of thousands of miles of pipelines and dredged 9,300 miles of canals in an industrial invasion of a wetland that once covered 3.2 million acres. Since the 1930s, more than a third of it has vanished, an area the size of Delaware. Each year, 15,300 acres more disappear, according to Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

Seafood Industry

Not all this can be laid to oil and gas drilling; the industry rejects the notion that it is chiefly responsible. Whatever the case, the destruction of marshland reverberates far beyond Louisiana. The state’s waters and wetlands underpin a commercial seafood industry that generates about $2.4 billion a year in wages and sales and provides almost a quarter of the catch in the contiguous U.S., according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board. They serve as wildlife breeding grounds, sheltering and feeding 5 million migratory birds a year, according to state data.

The wetlands also absorb and filter out pollutants and help slow storm surges. Marsh losses in the past 40 years alone could raise the height of a Category 3 storm surge by as much as 10 feet under certain conditions; marsh loss and the presence of a badly eroded navigation channel called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet may have magnified Hurricane Katrina’s surge in 2005 and helped turn the storm into a $150 billion catastrophe for the New Orleans region, according to computer modeling by Louisiana State University scientists.

‘Calamity Unequaled’

Coastal Louisiana accounts for 27 percent of U.S. energy production while an 83,000-mile infrastructure of pipelines and transfer stations transports 40 percent of its energy needs, counting petroleum from imports and offshore wells, according to data from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association.

The collapse of Louisiana’s coastal marshes is “an international economic and ecological calamity unequaled in history,” jeopardizing more than “$100 billion in energy infrastructure,” said America’s Wetland Foundation, a Louisiana coastal preservation group partly underwritten by the oil industry, in a 2008 report. Much of the pipeline network is buried beneath marshes. Erosion has already exposed high- pressure pipelines to storms and marine traffic, causing oil spills and accidents.

Mechanism of Destruction

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 damaged 457 pipelines, destroyed 113 oil and gas platforms and caused more than 44 spills totaling 9 million gallons of oil, according to post- Katrina reports by the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska amounted to 11 million gallons.

The state has floated an ambitious marsh and barrier-island rebuilding program that since Katrina it has tied to hurricane protection. The cost may come to $50 billion over time, according to the plan. To compensate victims for its spill, BP set up a $20 billion escrow fund.

Several factors are at play in the state’s coastal decimation. Coastal deltas naturally expand and contract over time. Since the U.S. built levees along the Mississippi following devastating floods in 1927, silt that once built land as the river meandered through the marshes has been falling into the deep waters of the Gulf. Starved of sediment, wetlands become waterlogged, sink and die. This is compounded by rising seas and the natural settling of subsea geological structures, scientists say.

Oil Industry’s Share

That doesn’t fully explain why a delta built over eight to 10 millennia has shrunk so much in the past eight decades, the scientists say. Dredging to locate drilling rigs and construction of navigation channels have disrupted the delicate interface between upland marshes and saltwater wetlands, says Kerry St. Pe, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, a marsh-preservation group headquartered in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Salt water poisons freshwater marshes and swamps, he says. Currents, tides, boats and storms hasten the erosion, especially along the unstable banks of dredged canals.

St. Pe also points to the billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas that have been sucked from beneath the state’s coastal zone by oil and gas development. “We’re not just eroding, we’re sinking,” he says. “The oil and gas extraction has set off a collapse in our coast.”

Economic Benefits

A consensus of coastal scientists puts wetland losses attributable to oil and gas activities at 36 percent, says Douglas Meffert, a deputy director of Tulane University’s Center of Bioenvironmental Research. The Gulf Restoration Network estimates the share as high as 60 percent, says Aaron Viles, the group’s campaign director.

“The idea that we’re mostly to blame is crap,” says Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, a 1,100-member trade group based in Baton Rouge. He cites a U.S. Department of Energy estimate that the industry accounted for no more than 15 percent of coastal loss.

Economic gains to the state from oil and gas — in jobs, taxes and growth over the decades — far outweigh the damage, according to the association. Oil and gas extraction and refining contribute about $70 billion annually to Louisiana’s economy and supports 320,000 jobs. State oil and gas taxes last year topped $570 million.

Paradoxical Relationship

The state’s view is that much of the damage from dredging is attributable to canals dug before 1980, when the state created its Coastal Resources Program and began to clamp down on oil and gas access canals, says Karl Morgan, administrator of the Permits and Mitigation Division for Louisiana’s Office of Coastal Management. Between 1980 and 1989, the lengths of permitted access canals shrank from 1,300 feet on average to just over 400 feet, he says.

These days, permits are seldom granted except to deepen existing canals, Morgan says. Backfilling is rare because many access canals still serve active wells or production units. The exceptions are canals or trenches dredged for laying pipelines. Before 1980, these canals “were not backfilled in many cases,” says Morgan. Since the advent of the Coastal Resources Program, the state “has always required backfilling,” he says.

In the history of Harry Bourg’s muskrat marsh, about 75 miles southwest of New Orleans, lies a parable of Louisiana’s paradoxical relationship with the oil industry. Bourg and four generations of descendants have reaped untold millions of dollars in royalties over more than seven decades. In 1938, the year oil was discovered under his marshes, Bourg was raking in as much as $100,000 a month in royalties, according to a newspaper report at the time.

Unlikely Millionaire

Yet his heirs have also had “the heartbreak of watching the beautiful marshland that Harry truly loved be damaged perhaps beyond repair,” says James M. Funderburk, the Harry Bourg Corp. attorney.

“If my grandpa knew what was coming,” says Bourg’s grandson, Cyrus Theriot Jr., 68, one of 50 shareholders in the family run corporation and its president, “I think he would have done things differently.”

A portrait of Bourg emerges from a 1938 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a short biography by Bourg’s former accountant and interviews with Bourg relatives and Funderburk.

Bourg was an unlikely candidate to become a multimillionaire. He was born in 1888 in the hamlet of Dulac, Louisiana, one of eight children in a farming and fishing family. Harry’s people descended from the French Canadians who were kicked off their lands in Canada’s Acadian provinces by the British in 1755.

35-Cent Fortune

The survivors became known as Cajuns and eventually settled up and down the Louisiana coast and wove themselves into it, fishing, hunting, trapping and farming the high ground, leaving only a small footprint. Education was sparse, family was central, food was the second religion behind Catholicism. Their cooking, music and joie de vivre took roots from this land.

Harry grew up with a fitful grade-school education. When he married at age 20, his entire fortune was the 35 cents in his pocket, a small house he’d built with his own hands and the shrimp boat his father, a fisherman and farmer, had given him. His wife had to teach him how to speak English, not to mention how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Pennies an Acre

Bourg did have a prodigious work ethic, a knack for invention and, despite his lack of formal education, a keen eye for business. Most shrimpers pulled seines by hand or dragged trawls with sail-powered boats. Harry adapted a new-fangled invention, the gasoline-powered outboard motor, and crafted special rigging to go with it.

The shrimp piled up in his nets. In 1908, his first season as a commercial fishermen, he made $300 — equivalent to about $31,000 in wages today.

In 1929, Bourg embarked on a mystifying real estate journey. He began buying up marshland at estate sales and tax auctions, amassing his 17,000 acres by 1933.

Though he sometimes paid just pennies an acre, people thought Harry was crazy. Conventional wisdom said marshland was valuable only if you could drain it to farm or build on. The marsh grew two things in profusion — mosquitoes and muskrats. Mosquitoes gave you malaria.

Muskrats were valuable for their pelts, but trapping a few hundred every season was backbreaking work in the boggy marsh. Undaunted, Bourg gave up shrimping for muskrat trapping. He became an entrepreneur, bringing in a dozen or so other trappers each winter. They’d live in his cabins, trap his lands and hand him a share of their profits.

‘Gasoline Distillate’

According to one family story, Bourg hired a surveyor and over time walked all 17,000 of his acres. One day he carried the surveyor on his back when the exhausted man couldn’t manage the boggy terrain. Bourg invented a small dredging contraption and ringed the entire boundary with a channel — called a “trainasse” in Cajun — just wide enough to accommodate a trapper in a pirogue, the Cajun equivalent of a canoe.

In 1938, Big Oil came calling. Representatives of Standard Oil Co. of California, a Texas oil baron named J.P. Fohs and a New Orleans investor, O.P. Montagnet, stood at Bourg’s farmhouse door. Pools of oil and gas were being discovered up and down the Gulf Coast. The oil men said they had a hunch about his land.

He signed a mineral lease and struck a mother lode of crude. It was so light and sweet the wildcatters called it “gasoline distillate.”

Uncashed Royalty Checks

Sudden wealth didn’t change the way he lived, dressed and carried on. Harry still liked his trapper’s boots, his dungarees, his floppy hats. He spoke English with a Cajun accent so thick some uplanders found it incomprehensible. He stayed in his small farm house on the banks of Bayou Grand Caillou in Dulac, trading up later to a modest brick ranch house.

Although Bourg helped start a bank in Houma, he mistrusted money men. His oil royalty checks often sat uncashed in a desk drawer in the office where he ran his muskrat trading business. Unconvinced that the oil men had calculated his royalties properly, he would summon them to his office and demand that they show him the math amid the stink of drying muskrat hides.

Bourg’s first oil strike, the Standard Oil well, was a technological marvel at the time, says Funderburk. The oil men brought in a dredge and dug a six-mile-long canal through Bourg’s marsh just wide enough to float in a rig on a barge.

“This is a well smack in the middle of Harry’s marsh,” says Funderburk. “How they figured the location, given the technology back then, is mystifying.”

Under Water

At a depth of 13,300 feet, the well was also the deepest in the U.S. at the time.

“That was the beginning,” says Funderburk. “More leases, and more canals, more laterals off of those canals. I’m sure Harry had no idea at the beginning what they were going to do to him over time.”

Today, where the marsh remains intact, egrets still fly, bull alligators still prowl, and redfish and shrimp still school in a tableau as old as the marsh itself. In other sectors, 80 percent of Bourg’s marshes have turned to open water, according to an engineering survey commissioned by the Bourg estate. About 55 percent of the entire 17,000-acre tract is under water, the survey found.

“We’re just trying to hold on to what we have left,” says Theriot, the grandson.

Chronic Erosion

By the time he died, Bourg was no longer ignorant of the effects of all the dredging. In the late 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pushed for construction of a 36.5-mile channel called the Houma Navigation Canal. Its sole purpose was to speed workers and equipment from the nearby port of Houma to rigs multiplying offshore in the Gulf.

The proposed channel boundary brushed Bourg’s property. Bourg fought it at public hearings and was the last holdout to grant a right-of-way. He predicted — correctly it turned out — that the channel would become a salt water siphon and poison upland marshes, including his.

Since the channel opened in 1962, its banks have been plagued by chronic erosion. Plans are afoot to build a lock as part of program to prevent saltwater flooding in Houma during storms. The Corps itself said in a report last year that saltwater intrusion from the canal threatens to destroy the 7,400-acre Falgout Canal Marsh Management Area, popular for fishing and hunting, unless rock dikes are placed along the channel’s banks.

One Well Left

These days only one of the 90 wells on the Harry Bourg property is pumping oil, Theriot says. The corporation supplements its income by selling fishing and hunting permits to local sportsmen. It still has a large alligator population that generates revenue from an annual hunt.

In 2004 the Bourg Corp. settled a lawsuit it filed against Exxon Mobil Corp. and several other oil companies to clean up pits full of toxic chemicals and residues. Theriot will say only that the property was restored at oil-company expense. Exxon Mobil declined to comment.

As for suing oil companies to redress damage from the runaway canals, the state supreme court erected a barrier in 2005, says Funderburk, the corporation’s lawyer. In a 4-3 decision in case known as Terrebonne Parish School Board vs. Castex Energy, the court found that companies can’t be required to refill eroded canals or pay damages unless a mineral lease specifically contains language compelling them to do so.

Who Will Pay

Who will pay to rebuild Louisiana’s wetlands has been under debate for years. Environmental scientists and lawyers argue that the oil industry should help foot the bill. The state says the federal government should pay because its flood-control projects helped cut off the river’s delta-building and its navigation channels fueled erosion.

“I don’t think anyone in the state is denying that oil and gas plays a role, but the overwhelming majority of our problems come from the federal interference in the natural waterways,” says Chris Macaluso, a spokesman for the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

“The industry, in a way, is already paying,” Macaluso says, as Louisiana spends some of its oil and gas royalties on restoration projects. The state is also pinning some of its plans on an additional $500 million a year in shared federal royalties from offshore drilling starting in 2017, he says.

“The oil industry damage to the Louisiana coast via oil and gas exploration over the past 80 years dwarfs the BP spill and all other spills past, present and future,” says Oliver Houck, director of Tulane University’s environmental law program in New Orleans. “The exploration has torn us to shreds, and for this damage the industry has yet to pay a penny. Nor has the state asked. Such is our subservience to the industry.”

Only Good News

Other industry critics say oil and gas operators shouldn’t be treated any differently from strip miners that have been required to restore lands.

The state’s reticence, says Camilo Salas, a New Orleans lawyer who has made a study of Louisiana’s wetlands and its oil politics, reflects Louisiana’s “coal-mining town mentality toward oil and gas.”

“That the state won’t even put the oil industry in the conversation about who is responsible for coastal erosion and who ought to pay for it is laughable,” he says.

At Harry Bourg’s muskrat marsh, the only good news lately is that oil from the BP spill hasn’t encroached on it. The value of the estate had dwindled to $3 million by 1990, according to a district court filing that was part of a lawsuit by two Bourg heirs against the corporation over money lent to a fish-farming enterprise.

Into the Marsh

That was after a $3 million payout to shareholders, the documents disclosed. Theriot declines to discuss corporation assets or finances except to say that it continues to pay dividends as cash reserves permit.

Though he worked 31 years in a white-collar job for Texaco Inc., now part of Chevron Corp., Theriot rejects the argument that jobs and taxes were a fair tradeoff for damage to Louisiana wetlands.

“Some of these oil companies could come back and step up to the plate and try to help fix the devastation they caused,” Theriot says. “But I guess not. You don’t see too many stepping up. Have you seen any of them trying to help BP?”

Claude Luke, the part-time Bourg Corp. warden, still frets that oil left over from the BP spill will wash into the marsh, even though the well has been capped. Fishing grounds near barrier islands to the south remain closed. “If the oil comes here,” Luke says, “we’re doomed.”

To contact the reporter responsible for his story: Ken Wells in New York at kwells8@bloomberg.net.

Tags: BP damage, BP oil spill BP oil damage, coastal erosion, coastal restoration, Don Briggs, environmental damage, louisiana coastal restoration, louisiana environment
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Louisiana Oil Industry Launches Latest Campaign in Ongoing ‘Legacy Lawsuit’ Battle

Posted on: February 17th, 2014 by restoreit

Louisiana oil industry launches latest campaign in ongoing ‘legacy lawsuit’ battle

By Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune  on February 17, 2014

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The Louisiana oil and gas industry has spent the better part of the past decade locked in a public debate with landowners and those who represent them over the growing number of environmental lawsuits filed in the state.

Landowners argue the lawsuits are a key step in reversing the toll decades of oil and gas exploration has taken. Industry representatives aim to quash what they say are frivolous lawsuits that are killing investment.

Industry representatives unveiled their latest offensive on Monday (Feb. 17) at the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association State of the Industry meeting in New Orleans.

The campaign, dubbed “Change Louisiana,” aims to build a coalition of businesses, government and community leaders “to stand up against the abuse and attacks generated by plaintiff lawyers,” according to a handout provided at the meeting.

In his address, the association’s Vice President Gifford Briggs noted the oil and gas industry in Louisiana is preparing for a busy decade. Low natural gas prices have prompted more than $60 billion in refinery, chemical and manufacturing investment in south Louisiana.

The state plays a key role in U.S. energy production at a time when the country is poised to surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia and become the world’s largest oil producer by 2015.

But Briggs said that’s only a fraction of the investment Louisiana would see if it weren’t for a legal environment that has pushed the state to the bottom of desirable drilling areas.

“We’re in an incredible spot right now, but there are issues in Louisiana that are preventing us from doing all the things we could do,” Briggs said. “If we were really able to tap into the power of this industry and all the resources we’ve got, there’s so much more that we could do.”

The number of drilling rigs in south Louisiana neared a record low this winter, with 16 operating as of Feb. 14. That compares with 26 in February 2006.

At the same time, the number of landowners filing suit to recover the costs of cleaning up after oil and gas activity has increased in recent years, up from 106 lawsuits in 2006 to 342 lawsuits last year.

 

“Louisiana is not the only place with oil in the ground and we’re not the only place with natural gas, but we are the only place with this kind of legal environment,” Briggs said.

The oil and gas industry correlates the rig declines with a surge in so-called “legacy lawsuits.” But there are also a number of economic factors at work.

 

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has opened up new parts of the country for oil and gas exploration, drawing investors away from older, proven areas such as south Louisiana.

South Louisiana is also rich in natural gas, the price of which has plummeted to near historic lows. Companies are now migrating to areas where they are more likely to hit oil, such as the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas or the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Environmentalists, landowners and their attorneys say the economics of drilling in south Louisiana, not lawsuits, are driving companies away.

During Monday’s meeting, Briggs said larger lawsuits, including one filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lawsuit last summerand similar parish-led lawsuits, show a cultural shift toward litigation.

The levee authority’s lawsuit names 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies and seeks damages for deteriorated wetlands along the state’s coastline.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association sued Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in December asking a state judge to determine whether Caldwell’s office improperly approved a contract between the levee authority and the law firm representing it. The case has been moved to federal court and is pending, Briggs said.

“We’ve made it OK to sue the oil and gas industry in Louisiana,” Briggs said. “The thought process is, file as many lawsuits as you want, (the industry) isn’t going anywhere.”

This isn’t the first time the oil and gas industry has drummed up opposition. In 2003, the industry led a push for legislation that required groundwater damage awards to pay for cleanup. The law was expanded in 2006 to to require all types of environmental damage awards in such cases to be used on cleanup efforts.

In 2012, a set of new laws were passed requiring environmental claims to go through hearings under the state Department of Natural Resources before going to court and allowing companies to limit liability for damages to a particular section of property, among other regulations.

The association’s representatives Monday did not lay out specific legislation they plan to back during the upcoming legislative session

Tags: clean water, coastal erosion, Don Briggs, environmental damage, legacy lawsuits, louisiana coastal restoration, louisiana environment, oil and gas
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LOGA: Frivolous Lawsuits Bane to Growth

Posted on: February 5th, 2014 by restoreit

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.

Tags: Don Briggs, environmental damage, gen. honore, John Carmouche, legacy lawsuits, louisiana environment, oil and gas
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Proposals to Fill in Louisiana Canals Not Gaining Much Traction

Posted on: January 13th, 2014 by restoreit

Proposals to Fill in La. Canals not Gaining Much Traction

BY AMY WOLD

The Advocate

January 12, 2014

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At the heart of a lawsuit against a number of oil and gas companies filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East levee board is the question of how much damage was caused by dredging canals through Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

But landowners have long opposed one approach to minimizing the damage: backfilling the canals.

“The people who have these canals don’t necessarily want these canals backfilled,” said Don Briggs, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s president. “Some of the best spots to fish are in areas like that.”

Even as early as the 1950s, researchers had concerns about the canals, not only because of the marsh that was disturbed but also because of the spoil banks piled up along each side of the waterways. These small levees of dirt, dug from the canal channels, can impound water in certain areas while the canals let in saltwater and otherwise alter the way the landscape functions.

These indirect effects from the dredging of oil and gas canals compound the direct impact of the canal construction and are considered one of the multiple causes of coastal wetland loss in the state.

State officials, saying these were sins of the past, say the state has changed the way it allows canals to be dredged in the marsh as well as how companies have to “mitigate” or replace the marsh they damage or impact.

In addition, oil and gas canals aren’t needed as often now, thanks to directional drilling technology, Briggs said, and if a canal is needed, industry is required to mitigate any damage.

“If I use 1 acre of land over here, I’ll mitigate 5 acres somewhere else,” Briggs said.

He also said many landowners consider the canals and the spoil banks as a benefit for flood and storm-surge protection as well as a historical means of access to the marsh.

Others involved in coastal research, however, say the state continues to ignore indirect impacts the canals have had and so the required mitigation doesn’t account for the true loss.

Backfilling the canals has been proposed a number of times by scientists and in the Legislature, yet despite some initial interest from the state in the 1980s, the idea hasn’t gotten much traction.

“People were dredging canals and we knew canals were causing land loss back then, so why don’t we look at putting them back?” asked Eugene Turner, Boyd professor and Shell endowed chair in oceanography/wetland studies with the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science at LSU.

Oliver Houck, professor of law at Tulane University Law School, became interested in oil canals after writing a piece for the Tulane Law Review in 1983. He said there were a number of reports suggesting backfilling of canals be required or at least recommended.

“There were very thorough reports on this done in the 1980s,” he said. “A lot of them were suppressed.”

There was even a report from Joel Lindsey, then administrator of the coastal management section at the Department of Natural Resources, sent to DNR Secretary Frank Simoneaux in 1983, that in part spoke in favor of backfilling canals or at least prohibiting spoil banks by instead pumping dredged material to marsh areas.

The report’s introductory letter states that more research is needed on the efficiency of the technique in different wetland types, “but we feel that this is a positive first step towards the accumulation of a scientific body of data on this subject.”

“They pulled back. They didn’t do it,” Houck said.

Several state legislators also tried to pass legislation that would require backfilling, but the idea didn’t go anywhere, he said.

“They killed it dead. They drove a stake through its heart,” Houck said. “It’s one of those great ideas that just never had a backer.”

So why the resistance?

Houck said he thinks companies or landowners with these canals didn’t favor backfilling them because that would mean admitting the canals and spoil banks were a problem.

Turner has followed up on the approximately 30 backfilled sites that he could find records of, and also designed several backfilling projects at the Barataria Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

Research on the effectiveness of backfilling, although limited, has shown mixed results; it appears to work better in freshwater marsh areas. But knocking spoil banks back into the canals won’t completely fill them because organic soils reduce in volume after being exposed to air.

Some coastal areas are crisscrossed by so many canals that backfilling one canal would have little impact on the overall hydrology, or water movement, in the area.

“If you restore the hydrology, you can get marsh back,” Turner said.

Starting in the early 2000s, several projects were conducted at Jean Lafitte Park to determine how effective backfilling canals would be in restoring wetlands and re-establishing the natural flow of water through areas of the park.

David Muth, now the Louisiana state director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Louisiana Coastal Campaign but at the time the cultural and natural resource manager at the Jean Lafitte park, said about 5 miles of canals were filled.

“In 2001, we signed a cooperative agreement with Gene Turner at LSU to design and oversee a canal backfilling project,” Muth said. Researchers took two canal segments and tested different methods on each to determine how the restoration would work over time. On one canal, the spoil banks were knocked into the canal, while the other canal was filled with dirt dredged from a nearby lake.

“After five years, there weren’t dramatic differences between the two canals,” Muth said. “These projects have proven to be very cost-effective. The cost per acre is extremely low compared to other restoration measures.”

However, the practice isn’t widely used for old oil and gas canals for a number of reasons.

“It isn’t done more mainly because of opposition of landowners who want to keep the canals,” Muth said.

The canals provide access to hunting and fishing areas, and from one area of the marsh to another, and some landowners want to keep the canals open in case new oil and gas extraction techniques become available that could make an old well profitable again. In other cases, he said, landowners have used the spoil banks in their water management plans to create duck ponds or as locations for camps.

Although there have been some complaints that backfilling canals wasn’t included in the state’s master plan for coastal restoration, Muth said the master plan is at a much larger scale.

“The scale at which the master plan is laid out, there’s no bang for your buck to go around backfilling canals in areas that are doomed in 50 years,” Muth said about the $50 billion, 50-year plan the state has approved to try to halt coastal land loss. The technique of backfilling canals is appropriate for an individual landowner who wants to keep land in place while waiting for larger projects to be built in the area, he said.

“It doesn’t fix the harm the canal and spoil bank did in the first place,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what the state should be spending its money on.”

In addition, he said, backfilling is included in the master plan but in a manner that might not be obvious.

Within the larger projects included in the master plan, such as diverting sediment and water from the Mississippi River and dredging soil to build marsh, some former canals could be in the way.

“There’s no reason you can’t fill in the canals within that footprint,” Muth said.

Kyle Graham, deputy executive director of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said canals do get filled in during the course of other restoration projects.

In addition, the state is looking at how to evaluate and prioritize areas where backfilling or other stabilization measures could buy some time until larger restoration projects are put in place, he said. Although details still need to be worked out, that effort could involve offering incentives to landowners or expanding current programs that fund smaller projects, some of which could include the closing in of canals.

Tags: coastal erosion, coastal restoration, environmental damage, louisiana coastal restoration, louisiana environment, oil and gas
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David vs. Goliath: John Barry, New Orleanian of the Year 2013

Posted on: January 7th, 2014 by restoreit

In his attempt to secure funding for coastal restoration and hurricane protection, John Barry refused to back down in his fight against Big Oil and Gov. Bobby Jindal

Clancy Dubois, The Gambit

For story click here

From his 26th-floor office atop the Tidewater Building, John Barry can look out his window and see the fragile wetlands of eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish — as well as the northernmost reaches of the Gulf of Mexico, which has crept dangerously close to the edges of the city in recent years. From another window across the hall, he can see Lake Pontchartrain and the fragile network of levees and floodwalls that keep the lake from inundating metro New Orleans during storms.

In every respect, he sees the big picture of wetland loss and flood protection across southeast Louisiana.

Since publication of his acclaimed 1997 book, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, Barry has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts in flood control policy. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Barry also became one of the most passionate advocates for protecting New Orleans against future floods — and for holding those responsible for past and possible future flooding accountable.

Barry’s advocacy for enhanced flood protection earned him a seat on the board of the newly created Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), the “nonpolitical” successor to the Orleans Levee Board. During most of his tenure on the SLFPA-E board, Barry was the darling of “reformers” who pushed for levee board consolidation after Katrina.

All that changed last July. That’s when Barry convinced his fellow board members to sue 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies that had carved up south Louisiana’s wetlands over the past 80 years, and many of his one-time patrons abandoned him.

All agree that the regional flood authority’s landmark lawsuit against Big Oil is breathtaking in scope and scale — and, if successful, will mark the first time the energy industry has been made to pay for massive environmental damage (and heightened flood risks) in south Louisiana. But not all agree the lawsuit should go forward. The backlash was immediate and intense.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has waged all-out war against the suit and against Barry personally. The governor will have to wait until March to try to convince state lawmakers to kill the suit, but he wasted no time removing Barry from the SLFPA-E board. Measured yet undaunted in the face of Jindal’s wrath, Barry formed Restore Louisiana Now, a nonprofit advocacy group that is raising funds and awareness to keep the lawsuit alive — in order to provide funding for the 50-year, $50 billion (some say $100 billion) Master Plan to restore Louisiana’s vanishing coast. If Big Oil doesn’t pay its share, Barry says, taxpayers will have to pay it — or the coast will disappear forever.

Now off the flood board and no longer bound by political constraints, Barry minces no words in his defense of the suit — or in responding to Jindal’s efforts to kill it legislatively.

“Think for a second about the idea of legislatively killing a lawsuit that’s already been filed,” Barry says. “That means you’re saying that the industry is above the law. That you can take someone to court, and because of their political power, they’re going to go in and rewrite the law after you’ve taken them to court? That offends me, and it should offend every person in America. I don’t care what you think about the lawsuit, whether you support it or oppose it, that’s offensive.

 ”Even if you hate the lawsuit, the idea that someone can go in and change the law after you’ve already caught them doing something wrong and you bring them to court, they just rewrite the law? Are you kidding me? This is not right.”

When state lawmakers convene March 10 for the annual legislative session, Jindal will bring the might of his office — and lead an army of energy industry lobbyists — to kill the lawsuit. Barry and Restore Louisiana Now will be outgunned and outspent. It will be a true David vs. Goliath confrontation. In this case, David has more than a slingshot; he has the truth.

“Everybody knows the industry is liable,” Barry says, noting that Jindal’s coastal advisor Garret Graves has repeatedly acknowledged industry’s responsibility. “A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study — which included industry scientists — concluded that 36 percent of the coastal land loss statewide was due to industry activity. … It’s hard for them to walk away from that. The USGS is the gold standard.”

In addition, public support for the lawsuit is building. An independent annual survey by Baton Rouge-based Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) found that a majority of voters in every corner of the state opposed efforts to kill the suit legislatively.

Restore Louisiana Now commissioned its own poll in the 22 parishes closest to the coast — including East Baton Rouge Parish and the Florida parishes. “It was overwhelming in support of the lawsuit,” Barry says. “By a margin of 74 percent to 21 percent, voters do not want the Legislature to interfere with the suit. In metro New Orleans, it was 86 percent to 12 percent against interfering. The message has gotten out.”

As he stares down the most powerful industry lobby in the history of Louisiana, Barry draws admirers from many quarters. He recently was tapped to be 2014 king of the satirical Krewe du Vieux Carnival parade. On a serious note, one of his former SLFPA-E colleagues, Stephen Estopinal, who still sits on the flood authority, praises Barry for leading the charge in support of the suit.

“We took the course we did because we had no other plausible means of meeting our responsibilities,” Estopinal says. “John is not an engineer. So what? I am, and I tell you now: John, because of his research and involvement, has as clear an understanding of the future threat as any Ph.D. in storm surge hydrology. You don’t have to be an artist to recognize beautiful art, and you don’t have to be an engineer to see we are in deep trouble.”

Gladstone Jones, the lead attorney in the SLFPA-E lawsuit, praises Barry as “a tenacious leader [who] was essentially fired by Governor Jindal for trying to do the right thing.”

“While many would have been bitter, John never wavered, never said a bad word about the governor,” Jones says. “He stayed focused on the objective: fixing the coast to provide better flood protection. John is that rare person who does the right thing for the right reasons, and he is always prepared to take the political and personal risks that come with being a courageous leader.”

Barry says the real credit goes to Estopinal and others on the SLFPA-E board who continue to support the lawsuit despite Jindal’s constant political pressure. “Courage involves risk,” Barry says. “What am I risking? Nothing. Other members of the board are willing to risk their jobs in support of the suit. They have courage.”

He then adds with a laugh: “What’s going to happen to me — Garret Graves and Bobby Jindal don’t buy my next book?”

Tags: BP oil damage, coastal erosion, environmental damage, Garret Graves, john barry, louisiana environment, russel honore
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Texas Brine Draws Up New Sinkhole Containment Plans

Posted on: December 30th, 2013 by restoreit

Worst-case sinkhole scenario would reroute Bayou Corne

BY DAVID J. MITCHELL
dmitchell@theadvocate.com
December 30, 2013

Click here for full story

Texas Brine Co. has developed a backup plan to replace the cracked southern section of a protective levee surrounding the sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish and may look to reroute Bayou Corne if conditions deteriorate further, records show.

The company’s new draft plan, filed this month with regulators who are still reviewing it, proposes “triggers” that would prompt the levee replacement. It also outlines an alternative of rerouting Bayou Corne if a replacement levee proves too unstable to maintain due to sinking of the remaining land between the sinkhole and the bayou.

Company officials and regulators say it is unlikely there would be a need to reroute the bayou based on current projections for the sinkhole’s expansion but need to be prepared.

Bayou Corne runs just south of the levee’s southern segment and forms half of a semi-circular arc of waterways south of La. 70. Bayou Corne ultimately joins Grand Bayou, which flows south to Lake Verret.

A popular getaway and fishing spot for Baton Rouge-area residents, the scenic cypress and tupelo gum swamps north of Lake Verret that the levee aims to protect are part of the largest swath of cypress in the Terrebonne Basin, state reports say.

The sinkhole’s brackish water contains high salt concentrations, posing an ecological threat to the surrounding areas if not contained by protective levees.

The sinkhole was dormant for weeks this fall, but has rumbled back to life twice since late October. Spikes in “micro-earthquakes” have resulted in cracks and sinking in a section of the levee’s southern arm.

As the 26-acre, lakelike hole has edged toward the southern levee and the bayou beyond, Texas Brine had been under growing pressure from regulators, parish government officials and the remaining residents in the Bayou Corne community to lay out contingency plans in the event the sinkhole expands farther to the south.

In the early months of the sinkhole, Texas Brine and state regulators used expedited permitting processes to build a levee, also known as a containment berm, as part of its response efforts.

Officials with responding agencies said they do not want that to happen again, especially if Bayou Corne has to be rerouted. Texas Brine would need a key wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory approvals to reroute the bayou.

Tom Killeen, administrator for state Department of Environmental Quality’s Inspection Division, said that office has urged Texas Brine officials to start moving on the permit process.

“It’s a point we have made to them,” Killeen said. “It’s not long enough off for them not to be penciling in information in the application right now. We want to have enough time to vet it and to public notice it and treat it through a normal regulatory process.”

Though laying out plans for worst-case contingencies in the Dec. 13 plan, Texas Brine officials said they believe they can safely repair cracks in the existing levee, maintain it and monitor any changes with an array of sensors.

State projections, company officials note, do not show the sinkhole will ever reach the bayou even if the sinkhole reaches what is considered a worst-case size of 40 acres.

“The berm is working,” Texas Brine officials said in a written statement about its plans. “It is constantly monitored to make sure containment is maintained.”

Louisiana Conservation Commissioner James Welsh ordered Texas Brine in November 2012 to contain the sinkhole’s oily and salty contents and protect the surrounding freshwater swamp.

The levee is the primary line of defense.

Scientists think the breach of an underground salt dome cavern operated by Texas Brine last year unleashed percolating methane gas from natural deposits and caused the sinkhole to emerge between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities probably on Aug. 3, 2012.

The sinkhole and the partially collapsed Texas Brine cavern are linked underground. As a result, the ultimate size of the sinkhole is linked to how much rock and sediment it takes to fill the cavern until an equilibrium is reached.

While state and company officials still can’t say how long that will take, projections suggest the rate of growth has slowed since the sinkhole formed although it is not done expanding.

Texas Brine designed the containment levee with a 20-year lifespan in mind.

Testing has shown the sinkhole’s surface water is brackish, too salty to drink, while just 100 feet down, the water is saltier than the open ocean,state reports say.

Texas Brine attained early containment of the sinkhole with a first layer of the levee in February while the company finished the 5- to 6-foot wall of earth, limestone and special liners.

But, following seismic events during the spring high-water period, some incomplete sections of the western and southern levees sank or were breached, allowing swamp water to flow into the sinkhole.

An extension of the western levee had to be built, and the breaches or sunken areas in the southern levee were repaired. The entire levee was finished in September, Texas Brine officials said.

State and parish officials agree with Texas Brine that the containment system, once completed, has successfully held back the sinkhole’s contents.

“We have not seen any data to suggest that water from the inside is finding its way to the outside,” Killeen said.

Texas Brine’s new plan does not have detailed designs for a new southern levee or bayou rerouting but proposes conditions when detail work would begin.

For example, a new southern levee farther from the sinkhole, would be built if the existing levee drops 4 feet in 30 days even after planned repairs or if testing shows the underlying earth is too unstable for repairs, Texas Brine’s plan says.

Once the company determined it had to move the southern levee, it would then develop plans to reroute the bayou. The actual rerouting of the bayou would proceed if the replacement southern levee hit the same stability triggers set out for the existing levee.

Patrick Courreges, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the plan and a separate report on the existing levee’s stability are under review.

An earlier company plan focused only on continued maintenance of the levee, said John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Though the new plan still needs tweaking, it seems to address most of the contingency concerns, he said.

“Bayou Corne is probably the biggest question,” Boudreaux said.

However, he said, scientific research on the sinkhole indicates little likelihood of it reaching Bayou Corne.

A way to think of the sinkhole cavity is to compare it with the hollow space inside a tuba — a deep, cavernous middle surrounded by a broad shallow area at the top where the horn edges flair out.

Worst-case projections from August show the sinkhole, now more than 200 feet deep, and an outer area of sunken earth around the sinkhole between 2 and 10 feet deep could grow to a combined 80 acres.

The hole is an oval shape, longer toward the northeast and La. 70 and toward the southeast and Bayou Corne.

Under a worst case scenario, planning documents say, the combined area would be 2,500 feet across at its widest, stopping 160 feet from Bayou Corne at the closest point. Texas Brine’s proposed replacement levee would contain the hole and be about 120 feet from the bayou at the closest, maps show.

Nick Romero, 65, who remains in Bayou Corne despite a standing nearly 17-month evacuation order, said he is glad to see there is plan but doesn’t think it is enough. He said he has seen the sinkhole defy predictions before.

“I believe they need to begin their plan to reroute Bayou Corne. Waiting for something to happen is a plan to fail,” said Romero, who was provided a copy of Texas Brine’s plan. “They need a plan that contains contractors, equipment, materials, owner agreements they can act on immediately.”

Jim Looney, 71, who lived in Bayou Corne for six years before a Texas Brine buyout and fished the area for decades, said he does not think a rerouting of the bayou is feasible given its role in draining the swamps into Lake Verret.

“Too many things intertwine together in the water movement out there to try to say we’re going to reroute it,” said Looney, a local columnist and author on fishing. “That’s the best way I can put it.”

Tags: Bayou Corne, environmental damage, louisiana environment, sinkhole, Texas Brine
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Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana

Posted on: November 21st, 2013 by restoreit

Click here for amazing video from youtube on Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana

 

Tags: coastal erosion, environmental damage, Garret Graves, louisiana environment
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General Honoré and Other Leaders Gather to Save Louisiana Environment

Posted on: November 15th, 2013 by restoreit

General Honoré and Other Leaders Gather to Save Louisiana Environment

Click here for full story

NBC 33 Staff

BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — Environmental leaders from across the state are teaming up with the community to save our Louisiana environment. Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant, General Russel Honoré, wants to tackle issues including the disasters in Bayou Corne and saving Louisiana’s aquifers, but he says your support is necessary for that to happen.

“We’re here to defend mother nature, and we are going to take a message to this state capitol that we will not allow them to destroy the water in Louisiana, nor our way of life, nor our seafood, nor our land. We’ve got to protect our wetlands equally,” said Gen. Honoré.

Honoré says the next step is a rally at the capitol to get lawmakers to pass the necessary legislation.

 

Tags: bayone corne, gen. honore, louisiana environment
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Jefferson, Plaquemines File Coastal Erosion Lawsuits Against Oil, Gas Companies

Posted on: November 14th, 2013 by restoreit

Click here for full story

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND — Plaquemines Parish dredged Wilkinson Canal, and created this “marsh wall” with the excess. The cell, to the left of the wall, was then filled with sediment to create a fringe marsh the parish hopes will weaken storm surges that threaten property. The fringe marsh will soon be populated with vegetation through natural processes.

30 SUITS TAKE ON OIL INDUSTRY FOR DAMAGE

BY JEFF ADELSON

Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes have filed a set of nearly 30 lawsuits alleging dozens of energy companies and their contractors destroyed and polluted the parishes’ coastal areas, mirroring the philosophy, if not the exact tactics, of a suit a local levee district filed this summer seeking to bring the oil and gas industry to account.

The companies ignored state laws that required coastal land used by oil and gas companies to be maintained properly and eventually restored to its original condition, according to the parish suits, which were filed Friday and Tuesday. The failure to take those actions has been linked to significant coastal erosion in the state, and the suits contend that the company’s actions led to contamination of coastal water and land with toxins.

That damage occurred despite specific requirements in their permits that the companies had to repair whatever harm they inflicted on the coast, according to the suits.

“We know we have the authority, we know the regulations were violated, we know the guidelines were violated,” said John Carmouche, of the Baton Rouge firm Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello, the lead lawyers for the parishes.

The suits, filed in the parish district courts, allege companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and many others ignored state laws governing their activities in coastal areas, failing to restore oilfields that had been destroyed by the pits and canals that are a part of oil and gas extraction, and leaving polluted land and water in their wake. The parishes each filed their own set of lawsuitscovering a total of 28 oilfields in their jurisdictions, seven in Jefferson Parish and 21 in Plaquemines.

The case is largely based on a 1978 law that defines companies’ responsibilities in maintaining, closing and restoring sites they worked on. At the time, the law was opposed by oil and gas interests, Carmouche said.

Since then, the energy industry has continued working on projects in coastal areas under a set of regulations governing how the areas must be maintained and requiring they be completely restored when they’re no longer needed. However, enforcement of those regulations has been lax or non-existent, relying largely on self-reporting by the companies doing the work, Carmouche said.

“We’ve taken depositions of prior (state conservation) commissioners going back to the ’70s and ’80s, and they had three investigators to investigate the entire state of Louisiana,” he said.

Among the regulations in that law was the duty to see that sites were “cleared, revegetated, detoxified and otherwise restored as near as practicable to their original condition upon termination of the operations to the maximum extent practicable.”

None of the companies ever filed permits indicating they had restored those fields, the suits say.

“I think the oil companies have an obligation to self-report, I think the oil companies are to blame and I think the oil companies took advantage of the state,” Carmouche said.

Should the parishes’ suits succeed, the oil and gas industry would have to pay to restore that damage or provide compensation for the land destroyed, he said.

Carmouche did not have figures for how much the restoration efforts could cost or the total amount of land involved.

The parishes’ suits are much more narrowly tailored, and potentially simpler, than the massive case brought against oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East earlier this year. While both cases rest, at least in part, on the alleged failure of energy companies to abide by the terms of their permits, the parishes merely have to prove that point.

The flood protection authority’s suit requires the levee board’s lawyers to prove that oil and gas activity in southeast Louisiana led to erosion that eventually allowed more destructive storm surge to hit the New Orleans area — in turn requiring more complicated and expensive flood protection systems. Proving that chain of causality would be required not just to win the case but also to stave off any challenges to the flood protection authority’s legal right to file the suit in the first place.

The parishes, by contrast, have direct standing under state law to sue simply over a failure to adhere to coastal regulations.

While all of the suits take aim at coastal erosion and other damage allegedly caused by oil and gas companies, the parishes’ suits more closely mirror the so-called “legacy lawsuits” brought by landowners to require energy companies to repair damage done to their properties. Carmouche and his partners have been heavily involved in those suits for the last decade.

The parishes have been considering the lawsuits for about a year, meaning they were in the works for months before the flood protection authority’s suit became public.

While the flood protection authority’s suit drew the immediate ire of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, state officials have so far taken a far softer tone with the parish suits and stressed the differences between the two. Those include distinguishing between suits brought by an appointed board and by elected officials, in this case the Parish Councils, and the more targeted approach in the parish’s case.

The oil and gas industry, however, has been less discriminating and has sought to tie the cases together.

“These suits are more of the same,” Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs said in an email. “Extort as much money from the oil and gas industry as possible, thus lining the pockets of a small group of trial lawyers. Plaquemines and Jefferson Parish are simply following the precedence set by the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.”

Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association President Chris John said Tuesday he had not yet seen the parishes’ lawsuits but that he opposed a piecemeal approach to coastal restoration efforts, instead pointing to the state’s Coastal Master Plan. That 50-year, $50 billion proposal is intended to restore wetland damage and is largely funded through existing revenue streams, rather than suits against oil and gas companies, though it will receive money from the BP oil spill case.

“I do believe that repairing our coast is a massive undertaking that needs a master plan,” John said. “If you start to piecemeal it, its sure to have adverse affects on the project next door or the project on the other side of the marsh.”

John also suggested his organization could “continue to rally not only the industry but the administration” against all the suits.

But Carmouche said the law is clear and the industry needs to be held accountable.

“These are state regulations that were not followed and need to be enforced, and the parishes, I think, are the proper parties under the regulation to make sure the parishes are restored to their natural state,” he said.

 

 

 

Tags: environmental damage, Garret Graves, John Carmouche, legacy lawsuits, louisiana environment, wetlands
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Officials Plan to Discuss Sinkhole Relief Wells Installation with Homeowners

Posted on: November 12th, 2013 by restoreit

click here for story

By WAFB Staff

Updated: 11/12/2013 12:55 am CST

Concerned homeowners will get a chance Tuesday to learn more information about the new relief wells being installed near the giant sinkhole in southeast Louisiana.

Those wells will be placed throughout the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at the command trailer at Sportsman’s Landing.

According to the Office of Conservation, lower levels of seismic activity at the sinkhole site allowed work to resume. Work on the sinkhole and the containment berm had been put on hold because of concerns over a number of micro earthquakes.

According to the Assumption Parish Police Jury, a crack developed on the south berm, which is located south/southwest of pad three. Officials added there is also increased seismic activity happening at the site.

At last check, the sinkhole was 26 acres in size. The president of United Brine, a subsidiary of Texas Brine, has stated the surface could get to 50 acres but the good news is it is moving in a southwest pattern, which is away from homes and the community.

History of the sinkhole

The sinkhole opened up in August 2012 and was roughly 1/24 of the size it is now. The sinkhole formed when an underground salt cavern collapsed.

In the past, seismic activity is reported, then the sinkhole burps up debris and then a slough-in happens. Burps occur when air and gas from deep in the sinkhole bubbles up. It can cause debris and an oily substance to float to the top. A slough-in is when the sinkhole swallows trees and land that is on the edge of the sinkhole.

Berms were placed around the sinkhole shortly after it opened up to keep the oily, debris filled water contained to the sinkhole area so it would not contaminate the area bayous.

It has more than a year since hundreds living near the giant sinkhole were forced from their homes.

Bubbles were spotted in Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou in June 2012. Two months later, the ground opened up and left what is now a 24-acre sinkhole. Residents were evacuated and the most affected residents began receiving weekly checks from Texas-Brine in the amount of $875 per week. Texas Brine owns the salt cavern that collapsed, causing the sinkhole.

On August 2, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced the state will be suing Texas Brine for environmental damages caused by the failed Texas Brine cavern.

Parish and Texas Brine officials agree the situation is far from over. 3D seismic surveys show the sinkhole itself it beginning to slow and stabilize, but the recovery is focused on another danger; natural gas gathering underneath a nearby aquifer.

Copyright WAFB 2013. All rights reserved.

Tags: Bayou Corne, environmental damage, louisiana environment, oil and gas, sinkhole
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