‘Greedy trial lawyers’ blamed La. for drilling drop

Speakers with Louisiana’s most vocal oil and gas industry proponent and a new pro-energy nonprofit told a lunch crowd of about 200 Thursday that a drop in Louisiana on-land drilling in the past few years is directly related to a rise in lawsuits against drillers.

“There are a few greedy trial lawyers who are driving investment out of the state,” said Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.

Especially alarming, Briggs said, was the rise in lawsuits filed by coastal parishes against oil and gas concerns that are claiming recent drilling has damaged the land and is partly responsible Louisiana’s dwindling coastline.

Briggs made the presentation at the Lafayette Petroleum Club with Marc Ehrhardt, of the Grow Louisiana coalition.

Both have embarked on the “Change Louisiana” tour, which includes promotion of GiveEmTheBoot.org.

GiveEmTheBoot.org is a nonprofit signing up pro-energy Louisiana residents who will give legislators an earful this legislative session when it comes time to vote on pro-industry bills. The legislative session started Monday and will end June 2.

Briggs and Ehrhardt are taking Change Louisiana across south Louisiana. On Thursday evening they gave another presentation at the Lafayette Petroleum Club. On Friday, they were scheduled to be at a luncheon at the Morgan City Petroleum Club and will be at the Courtyard Marriott in Houma on Monday.

Their message: The proliferation of lawsuits against wealth- and job-creating oil and gas companies has driven down drilling in the past few years and threatens to run the industry out of Louisiana for good.

The culprits, they said: “Greedy trial lawyers,” a phrase repeated many times in the one-hour session. Briggs showed slide photos of some of the lawyers’ “toys” bought with proceeds from lawsuits, including a yacht and a Manhattan penthouse suite, each costing millions of dollars.

Briggs said legacy lawsuits, filed by landowners for long-ago drilling operations, were bad enough — claiming one plaintiff pocketed $70 million for driller-caused damage to his coastal land and didn’t use the money to clean up the mess.

But it’s the rising number of lawsuits filed by local governments and levee districts in coastal parishes that’s causing concern now.

“Parish lawsuits are what the future is looking like,” Briggs said.

Ehrhardt and Briggs said they were enlisting residents, many of whom make a living in the oil patch, on the GiveEmTheBoot.org site. Their aim is to rally support for pro-industry legislation that is just starting to be debated in committees.

Pro-industry bills up for consideration include House Bill 862, by Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and Senate Bill 467, by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton.

Robideaux’s bill would set up a process for parish-driven suits. Adley’s bill confronts a lawsuit filed last year by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East, which seeks billions of dollars from 97 oil and gas companies for their disputed roles in coastal erosion in southeast Louisiana.

The fight against the levee board lawsuit is being fought on several fronts, including through legislation and in the courts.

Last year, LOGA filed a suit against the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office because it had OK’d the levee district’s contract with a private law firm to sue the 97 companies. LOGA’s suit claimed Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office did not have the authority to approve the levee district’s contract with the law firm.

A state district judge in Baton Rouge dismissed the suitthis week.

Briggs said Thursday afternoon that LOGA had applied for writs with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in an effort to revive the lawsuit.

“We stand by our petition and our beliefs,” Briggs said.