St. Tammany Parish will take its fight against a planned fracking well near Mandeville to the state’s highest court, the Parish Council decided Thursday night.
Last month, the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against the parish, upholding an earlier ruling by a Baton Rouge judge. The appeals court rejected the argument that local zoning ordinances should have prevented Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh from issuing a drilling permit to Helis Oil & Gas Co., the company that proposed the well.
The council’s 11-2 vote to keep the case going was greeted with applause by the score or so fracking protesters who sat through the three-hour meeting.
“The state government thinks they don’t have to adhere to this type of rule,” said John Lea, of Covington. “I commend you for this.”
Carl Ernest, who spoke on behalf of the activist group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which has joined the parish’s suit, thanked the council and promised his group will stay in the fight.
Slidell resident Bill Badon also said the parish must continue to fight.
“Once it’s destroyed,” Badon said, referring to St. Tammany’s environment, it’s gone. “It’s important to the next generations that we protect it now.”
Other speakers invoked legal theory, magazine stories and even papal encyclicals in opposition to the well.
Only one speaker — a representative of the Northshore Business Council, a business group — urged the council to “stand down” and not pursue the appeal.
At least one member of the council took issue with some of the things that were said.
“I feel sorry for those of you that feel like this (issue) is going to be the end of the world,” Richard Tanner said. “One of our own lawyers said there is only a 1-in-1,000 chance that the Supreme Court will even hear our writ. What are we doing this for?”
Tanner and Michele Blanchard cast the only votes against pursuing the appeal. Councilman Michael Lorino was absent.
The state’s high court is the last gasp for the parish’s fracking foes, who have struck out in a variety of legal arenas, including state court in St. Tammany and federal court in New Orleans.
Helis’ planned well has been controversial from the time it was announced in 2014. The ferocity of the opposition seemed to catch company and public officials by surprise, and fracking opponents packed a number of public meetings, including an unprecedented public hearing held by the state to collect opinions on the drilling permit.
Helis has weathered the political storm and been undeterred by a drop in oil prices, insisting that the well will be drilled, and safely.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.