Many of our clients who have oil and gas operations on their property express grave concerns about the damage the company is causing to their land and groundwater. Sometimes they are farmers, concerned they can’t use the water, run cattle, or grow crops. Often families live on the land where these operations take place, and they fear toxic exposures to children. There is concern their greatest asset is now a potential liability because it is damaged and polluted. We always explain ignoring the problem won’t make it go away – you must act!
This will answer some of the questions asked by landowners when considering whether to take legal action against an oil company that has damaged their property:
Can I sue the oil company?
Yes. Many legal causes of action exist to hold oil companies responsible if they pollute your property. These actions include, breach of the mineral royalty contract, breach of their Louisiana Mineral Code obligation to act as a reasonably prudent operator, violation of the Louisiana Groundwater Act, enforcement of Louisiana Environmental Quality Act claim, and other causes available in the Louisiana Civil Code. The oil industry calls these claims Legacy Lawsuits.
What is a Legacy Lawsuit?
A legacy lawsuit refers to a lawsuit by a landowner claiming that oil and gas operations caused the property, including the land or the groundwater, to become polluted by the exploration and production of oil and gas. The oil industry coined this phrase because many of the major oil companies (Shell, Exxon, BP, Conoco, and Chevron) have sold their historic oil fields but retain legal liability for environmental cleanup. Therefore, it creates a legacy liability for them.
What kind of pollution is caused by oil and gas E&P?
The exploration and extraction of oil and gas generates many different toxic substances. Chemicals containing barium, asbestos, arsenic, and other heavy metals are often used in the drilling and extraction process. Pits are often created to store drilling mud, produced water, and crude oil. These pits can be contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, diesel range organics, chlorides, heavy metals, arsenic, and radioactive materials. The equipment, land, and water can be contaminated with radiation, which is generally called TENORM or NORM.
If I sue, will the oil company cut off my royalty payments?
No. The company operating under a mineral lease can’t legally do this, and it would be against their own economic interest.
Will I need to pay the litigation costs?
No, there are not up-front costs. If we believe the case is winnable, my law firm pays the litigation expenses and performs all legal work pursuant to a contingency fee agreement. We only get paid when we are successful. Therefore, we carefully screen all potential case before we accept the representation.
What are the benefits?
The law provides recovery of monetary damages and restoration of the land and the water. If we reach a settlement, our client may recovers a cash payment, restoration of the of their land and water, attorney fees and costs, and indemnification to protect the landowner from claims by regulators or third parties who could sue them in the future.
In conclusion, by filing a lawsuit you can better protect your family, your business, and your most valuable asset – your property. The oil industry will ignore their legal liability until they are held accountable. Time is on their side. The longer nothing is done, the more likely they can successfully argue against being held legally responsible. That is why we often recommend to my clients: “Don’t wait – take legal action.”