Oil and gas is and has been big business in Louisiana for many years. The first oil well in Louisiana was drilled in 1901 near Jennings, Louisiana. Once the first well was drilled, an oil boom hit Louisiana, hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled since, and the rest is history.
The Oil and Gas Industry polluted Louisiana’s most precious resources
With the new industry came environmental issues that the citizens of Louisiana could have never predicted. Soil, groundwater, rivers, and drinking water have become contaminated over the years with hydrocarbons, radioactive isotopes, and chlorides related to oil and gas production and exploration. In some cases, oil and gas operators have simply abandoned their former oil sites and left the contamination for someone else to deal with. Many of these operators hid their contamination by burying it and some left it out in the open without any consequences.
Suits by Private Landowners to restore their property
Faced with contaminated water and soil, landowners have been forced to take action against former operators who polluted their homesteads and land. Removing oil and gas contamination to have safe property is a costly endeavor, often costing hundreds of thousands or millions to restore a single site. In most cases, a private landowner can sue former operators for contamination under their oil and gas leases or Louisiana law. These suits are often referred to as Legacy Lawsuits because the oil and gas companies have left their polluted legacies on properties.
However, in some situations, prior operators are defunct, insolvent, or otherwise unavailable. A landowner faced with contaminated property and no former operator to sue is stuck with an incredible environmental liability.
Louisiana’s Orphan Well Program
As contamination increased and dirty operators simply closed up shop without fulfilling their clean-up obligations, the State of Louisiana finally recognized something had to be done. 92 years after the first well was drilled, the Louisiana Oilfield Site Restoration Program or Orphan Well Program was created. The program was started to address the growing number of former oil field sites abandoned by oil and gas companies after they took all of the oil and gas resources they wanted.
Orphan wells are those where “no viable responsible party can be located, or such party has failed to maintain the wellsite in accordance with State rules and regulations.” These abandoned oilfield sites can be cleaned up by this State program. Funding for the program is generated from a fee on current oil and gas production in the State and results in approximately $4 million annually.
However, the polluted sites and costs to restore those sites greatly exceeds the annual budget and the capacity of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. As a result, sites deemed to pose the greatest risk to public health and safety are be prioritized while other hazardous sites are left in the community.
Oil and Gas should do the right thing
In every case of oil and gas pollution in our State, an oil and gas company was the one to blame and should bear the responsibility to restore the property. Landowners and state agencies should not be tasked with cleaning up someone else’s mess simply to have access to clean water and soil.