Republicans take aim at oil and gas legacy lawsuits

Two Republican politicians running for statewide office in 2015 joined an energy association Thursday in opposing legacy lawsuits filed by local governments against oil and gas companies.

A third politician, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., acknowledged the escalating fight between oil and gas interests in Louisiana and those suing the companies.

“I know y’all are struggling with the lawsuit issue,” Landrieu told hundreds of industry officials at the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association’s annual meeting, held this year at L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles.

Landrieu is running for a fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate later this year.

There has been a flurry of lawsuits filed on behalf of parish governments and other political entities, such as levee boards, against oil and gas companies for drilling and production work done years ago. The parishes claim the oil companies are responsible for their eroding coastlines.

Oil and gas interests, through LOGA and several other organizations, are waging a public relations and legislative attack against the lawsuits and the attorneys who file and try the cases.

LOGA Vice President Gifford Briggs often cites the phrase “greedy trial lawyers” when talking about his cause.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who have announced 2015 election plans, adopted Briggs’ tone at the LOGA event.

Nungesser, who was loud and center stage after BP oil splashed on Plaquemines Parish shores in 2010, has also been outspoken on coastal erosion matters.

He said erosion is particularly damaging to Plaquemines Parish due to its long jut into the Gulf of Mexico.

But, he told the LOGA crowd Thursday, he doesn’t agree with lawsuits filed last year by the Plaquemines Parish Council.

Tax payments made by oil and gas concerns in Plaquemines Parish fund the bulk of parish operations, he said.

Many of those lawsuits were filed late last year by the Plaquemines Parish Council, and Nungesser said he’s working to thwart the re-election this year of council members who OK’d suing the industry in a 5-4 vote.

“I think we have an opportunity to stop what’s already out of control,” Nungesser said. “Unless the people of Plaquemines Parish want their taxes to double or triple, they better rethink” the lawsuits.

Nungesser, a Republican, announced last year that in 2015 he’ll take a second run at the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

Vitter, also a Republican, also has announced his plans for 2015: He’ll run for governor.

Vitter singled out lawyers who have convinced government entities to sue and also the judges in whose courts the cases play out.

Briggs, as he did in a recent tour across south Louisiana, tried to enlist the LOGA crowd of about 500 to sign up their friends, family and coworkers to fight the suits.

Those who sign up will be asked to phone, write, email or show up at the Legislature to show support for the lawsuit-neutering bills now under consideration. One of the lucky signees will win a $1,000 gift card from Cabela’s.

“Let them know the oil and gas industry is under attack by these greedy trial lawyers,” Briggs said.

“What we want to do is give ’em the boot,” Briggs said, a reference to a new nonprofit created to fight the lawsuits —

Landrieu, the first politician to speak Thursday, mostly stayed away from the lawsuit issue.

She concentrated on her role as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and on past efforts to get Louisiana more money from offshore royalties and severance taxes that now go to U.S. government coffers.