Official: The longer gas prices remain low, the worse it’ll be for Louisiana _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Gifford Briggs, Vice President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, speaks during a State of the Industry session at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette on Wednesday. Five more of the LOGA forums will be held in the next seven weeks.

Gubernatorial candidates told an oil and gas audience Friday that Louisiana’s coastal loss is a problem and that repairs need to be funded now, but three of the four men vying for the office said they oppose local governments raising money for coastal repairs by suing energy companies.

Three Republicans — Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — and Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards spoke to hundreds of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association members. The forum in Lake Charles was moderated by Jason El Koubi, of One Acadiana, a nine-parish economic development agency in the oil and gas intensive region.

Dardenne, Vitter and Angelle worked to distinguish their messages and credentials from one another. And in front of a Republican-heavy LOGA audience, Edwards acknowledged that he has backed local governments’ right to sue oil and gas companies.

Three of the five questions posed to the candidates crafted by LOGA concentrated on lawsuit abuse. Some of those abuses, LOGA said, can be seen in litigation filed by a levee board in New Orleans and coastal parish governments. The suing entities claim that long-ago drilling and pipeline installations caused a receding coast that has exposed south Louisiana to floods.

“The blame game will not fix the coast,” said Angelle, a former head of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources.

Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of coast since 1930, according to Louisiana’s Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The master plan lays out a 50-year, $50 billion strategy for combating coastal and wetlands loss.

“We’ve already lost more than we will ever be able to get back,” Dardenne said.

Vitter, a U.S. senator since 2005, touted his defense of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, a federal law enacted after Hurricane Katrina that shares oil and gas leasing revenue with four Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana. The bulk of the money is slated to be available in 2017.

“It’s a matter of literal survival,” he said of the funds.

All four candidates also said they believe the state, not local governments, should have the final say-so when it comes to drillers’ hydraulic fracturing operations within a parish. The technique, called fracking, uses high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to loosen oil and gas trapped in rock. Opponents claim the technique could contaminate groundwater and cause other damage.

St. Tammany Parish government and the town of Abita Springs filed separate lawsuits last year to stop New Orleans-based Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s plans to drill near a high school.

The candidates said state jurisdiction over drilling is a must or else there could be just as many sets of drilling rules as there are municipalities and parishes — hundreds.

Dardenne said there have been no reports of drilling chemicals rendering water supplies undrinkable. And Vitter questioned the governments’ levels of expertise: “Is the town council really an expert about fracking?”

Addressing another LOGA question, all four men stressed the need for a stable taxing structure in Louisiana, from equal treatment in parish-to-parish asset value calculations, to the state of asset values by Louisiana’s tax assessors. LOGA said companies get hit with uneven assessments parish to parish, some of which use outdated asset values when it comes to oil companies’ property taxes.

The gubernatorial election is Oct. 24, with a runoff, if needed, Nov. 21.