Historically, oil and gas companies operating in Louisiana from the early 1900s through the 1980s had very poor waste management practices. These practices in combination with little to no oversight left a “legacy” of pollution in Louisiana. The resulting litigation has been coined “legacy litigation.”
WHAT IS LEGACY LITIGATION?
The oil and gas industry branded the subsequent lawsuits filed against them by lessors/landowners for property contamination as “Legacy Litigation.” This is a blatant attempt by the oil industry to convince the public that these problems are in the past.
THE OILFIELD WASTE PROBLEM
While modern regulation has greatly reduced the likelihood of contamination from oil and gas activities, oversight is frequently underfunded or non-existent even today. Day to day activities in the oil and gas industry involve the generation of many wastes including oil and gas, drilling fluids, produced water, mercury, arsenic, barium, zinc, radium, hexavalent chromium, as well as other metals and toxic substances. Produced water is water mixed in oil or gas formations that is brought to the surface during the oil and gas extraction process. Produced waters contain hydrocarbons, heavy metals, salts, and radioactive materials.
It was common for contaminants to be discharged or spilled onto the ground during oil and gas exploration and production. From the very beginnings of the industry in the early 1900s throughout the 1980s, oil companies generally disposed of their oilfield wastes on leaseholds in unlined pits or through injection wells. Companies also disposed of produced water by discharging their wastes into nearby waterbodies.
The use of unlined pits for the disposal of oilfield wastes is particularly problematic as this allows for migration of the wastes vertically down into groundwater and horizontally over onto other neighboring properties. This type of land disposal of wastes in combination with regular spillage and leaks associated with daily operations can contaminate soils and groundwater. This contamination can migrate far beyond property lines leaving landowners at risk for liability to clean up their neighbors’ properties. In a similar vein, older injection wells frequently lose integrity due to leaks in the casing. This places groundwater resources at increased risk of contamination.
The contamination of land and groundwater resources by oilfield wastes, and in particular the radioactive materials contained within, presented a particularly burdensome public health threat to the citizens of Louisiana. Based on this significant threat to human health and the environment, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) issued an emergency order (Statewide Order 29-b) setting out the first set of comprehensive rules regulating the storage and disposal of oilfield wastes.
In January 1986, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources promulgated their 29B regulations which cover pollution control and regulate oilfield pit closures as well as waste disposal. Likewise, in 1988 and 1989, the Louisiana legislature and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) began the process of regulating radioactive contamination associated with oil and gas production activities.
LEGACY OF OILFIELD POLLUTION REMAINS TODAY
Louisiana regulation of oilfield wastes was necessary since oilfield wastes were generally not regulated at the federal level. The oil and gas industry successfully lobbied Congress to obtain an exclusion for oilfield wastes from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). If not for Louisiana state regulation banning the use of unlined oilfield pits, the state of Louisiana’s groundwater resources would be even more critical.
Oil field pollution problems have hurt Louisiana landowners for more than a century and will continue to plague Louisiana for decades to come. While the threat of contamination of Louisiana’s soils and groundwater by oil and gas wastes was greatly reduced by the issuance of LDNR’s emergency rule for pit closures in 1986 and subsequent regulations on waste disposal, oilfield contamination remains a lasting problem even with modern operations. It is not just a “legacy” problem.
Even if modern oilfield operations are less likely to contaminate land and groundwater, there are thousands of properties across Louisiana on which oil and gas companies conducted operations and utilized unlined pits prior to 1988. Many of these pits were closed improperly and still present a substantial risk of liability for landowners.
LEGACY LITIGATION MAY BE THE ONLY WAY TO HOLD THE COMPANIES RESPONSIBLE
If you own one of these properties, environmental surveys and testing to discover contamination can quickly become prohibitively expensive for landowners. Stag Liuzza, LLC works with experts to evaluate potential property contamination. These experts have decades of experience and include former state regulators, environmental engineers, toxicologists, and radiation health physicists.
To ensure that your property is free from oilfield contamination going forward and to eliminate potential liability for yourself and future landowners, please contact us at 504-593-9600 for a free evaluation.