Legacy Oil Field Sites

By Claire Juneau

After the 2003 Corbello decision, the Louisiana legislature attempted to enact a workable procedure for recovering environmental damages arising from oil and gas operations known as Act 312. The main goal of Act 312 was to ensure that property contaminated by oilfield operations would be cleaned up to applicable regulatory standards. Since the enactment of Act 312, very few cases have made it through the Act 312 process. Thus, in an attempt to expedite the identification and remediation of contaminated property, the Louisiana legislature recently passed two new measures revising the Act 312 procedure.

Summary of the New Legislation

The first measure (a House bill enacted as Act 754) amends the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure to provide for:

  • The issuance of an environmental management order (EMO) to expedite site inspections and sampling, and
  • A limited admission of environmental liability that allows defendants to begin to remediate property before trial (limited to the most feasible plan to remediate the property).

The second measure (a Senate bill enacted as Act 779) provides for a number of amendments to Act 312:

  • Allows a plaintiff to provide a notice of intent to investigate potential environmental damage that suspends prescription of the claim for one year upon the notice being provided to LDNR,
  • Requires the plaintiff to identify the alleged environmental damage and the results of any environmental testing if a lawsuit is filed after a notice of intent to investigate is filed,
  • Permits a defendant to request an early preliminary hearing to determine whether there is good cause for it to remain a defendant in the case,
  • Grants subpoena power over agency personnel involved in developing the feasible plan and allows for discovery regarding the development of the plan after a final plan has been submitted,
  • Prohibits ex parte communications with agencies, officials, and contractors who are involved in formulating the feasible plan,
  • Requires the Departments of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources, along with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), to comment if LDNR approves or structures a preliminary plan that applies regulations other than those of LDNR, and
  • Provides for a waiver of indemnity rights against punitive damages caused by a party who admits limited liability.
     


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By Lou Grossman

The Subsequent Purchaser Doctrine is a judicially created limitation on the rights of a current landowner to sue for pre-acquisition damages. For over 160 years, Louisiana courts have held that a current landowner has no right of action to sue for damages to his/her property occurring prior to the date of sale

By Brittany L. Buckley

Effective today, October 20, 2011, new permitting and disclosure requirements apply to hydraulic fracturing operations in Louisiana. Known as “fracking” in the oil and gas industry, hydraulic fracturing refers to the process of injecting fluid into tight shale or sandstone formations, which creates fractures in the rock through which oil and gas may travel into the wellbore. When combined with horizontal drilling, fracking allows producers to capture oil and gas reserves that were once thought to be out-of-reach.

Pursuant to the newly-implemented amendment to Subpart I of LAC 43:XIX (Statewide Order 29-B), fracking operators must now apply for and obtain a specific permit for “hydraulic fracture stimulation” from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation before utilizing pressurized fluids to fracture any formation for the purpose of improving its ability to produce hydrocarbons. After obtaining the requisite permit and conducting its fracking operations, the operator must be prepared to publicly disclose (1) the types and volumes of base fluid used during fracking; (2) a detailed list of all additives used in the fluid and the name of the supplier for each type of additive; and (3) a list and concentration of any chemicals contained in the fracking fluid that are regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and reported on Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). The lone exception to these disclosure requirements permits an operator to withhold trade secrets, but the regulations still require the operator to disclose pertinent chemical characteristics of even proprietary constituents used in fracking operations.

To comply with these disclosure requirements, the operator must utilize the Office of Conservation’s new WH-1 Form to disclose the information about the base fluids (discussed above), together with detailed information about the identities and volumes of water supplies used during each phase of fracking operations. In lieu of submitting the WH-1 Form directly to the Office of Conservation, the operator may elect to satisfy its chemical reporting obligations by publishing the required information to an online database that makes the information available to the public free of charge. If utilizing the online option, the operator must also furnish a written statement to the Office of Conservation certifying that all required information has been published in an online registry. FracFocus is one online database specifically endorsed by the new regulation, but the disclosure requirements can also be met by publishing the required information to any other “similar registry.” It is anticipated that the option to satisfy Louisiana’s new disclosure requirements by publishing information to FracFocus will be heavily utilized, as many oil and gas companies have already become accustomed to using this registry to comply with other states’ disclosure regulations.
 


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By Lou Grossman

In a recent decision, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the application of the longstanding subsequent purchaser doctrine to an oilfield legacy case.  The decision Wagoner v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., et. al., No. 10-45507 (La. 2. Cir. 2010) affirmed the legal principle that the right to recover for property damages

By Katie D. Bell

Electronic Discovery, or “E-Discovery”, is not considered the “novel issue” it once was. However, E-Discovery still presents problems that litigants and courts struggle with. Below is a summary of recent Louisiana Federal Court opinions dealing with the issues surrounding E-Discovery.

In Frees, Inc. v. McMillian, 2007 WL 184889 (W.D. La. Jan. 22, 2007), the Western District of Louisiana granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel. In an unfair competition and trade secret theft action, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant, a former employee, had stolen various data files. Plaintiff had unsuccessfully requested production of defendant’s laptop and desktop. The Court granted the motion to compel the defendant to produce these two items because they were the most likely places that the data files would be located. The Court did institute protective measures so as to prevent the disclosure of any irrelevant or personal information.
 


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By Esteban Herrera, Jr.

The July 20, 2010 Louisiana Register contained a notice from the Office of Conservation, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources that purported to promulgate rules amending Statewide Order 29-B to add a new Chapter 8 on procedures for evaluation and remediation of groundwater at E&P sites. Conservation’s Web site on July 20,

By Victor J. Suane, Jr.

In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature enacted Louisiana Revised Statute 30:29 (“Act 312”) to provide a procedure for judicial resolution of claims for environmental damage to property. The provisions of Act 312 are applicable whenever there is “any litigation or pleading making a judicial demand arising from or alleging environmental damage” involving “contamination resulting from activities associated with oilfield sites or exploration and production (“E&P”) sites,” regardless of whether claims for remediation arise under the Louisiana Mineral Code or Civil Code. La. R.S. 30:29(I)(1).


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By Linda S. Akchin

On Friday, April 9, 2010, the Louisiana Supreme Court (1) reversed the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Cimarex Energy Co. v. Mauboules (2)in which the Circuit Court held that

(1) a royalty interest vendors’ oral assertion to a mineral lessee that the royalty interest vendee fraudulently inserted a prescription interruption provision in the royalty deed, and that therefore the royalty interest had reverted back to the vendors, is not a reasonable basis for the mineral lessee to initiate a concursus proceeding to determine the ownership of royalty payments because the innocent third party purchaser of the royalty interests is protected by the public records doctrine; and

(2) the mineral lessee is liable not only for the royalties paid into the registry of the court, but also for an additional sum equal to double the amount of royalties paid into the registry of the court, as damages.

The Third Circuit decision represented a gross departure from well-established Louisiana law relating to concursus proceedings, upon which the oil and gas industry, and mineral royalty payors in particular, have long relied in order to avoid the risk of multiple liability and the vexation of multiple lawsuits, as well as to avoid a penalty for nonpayment of royalties pursuant to Mineral Code provisions allowing a penalty under certain circumstances.


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By Len Kilgore and Esteban Herrera

In the January 20, 2010 Louisiana Register, the Office of Conservation, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources issued a Notice of Intent to amend Statewide Order 29-B to incorporate new rules for the evaluation and remediation of groundwater conditions at exploration and production sites.

The proposed rules can be found

by Katherine K. Green and Richard D. McConnell

There are scores of oilfield contamination cases, coined “legacy lawsuits,” in which landowners claim that their property has been contaminated by historical oil and gas exploration and production operations. Legacy lawsuits are a means for plaintiffs to potentially obtain large jury verdicts to remediate property. Plaintiffs, however, are not required to use their monetary awards towards the remediation of their property. In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature, in response to windfall jury verdicts, lack of remediation obligations on landowner plaintiffs, and the adverse effect of those events on oil and gas operators in the State, enacted Louisiana Revised Statute 30:29 (“Act 312”). Act 312 reflects the Legislature’s concern that the State’s natural resources were not being protected under then-existing laws. 

The constitutionality of Act 312 was recently challenged in M.J. Farms, Ltd. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, No. 07-CA-2371. In a unanimous opinion rendered by the Court, Act 312 was held to be not only constitutional but also applicable to legacy cases.  


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