The so-called “Legacy Lawsuits” are killing Louisiana’s oil industry. The lawsuits concocted by trial lawyers and sponsored by local governments and enthusiastically supported by our governor are designed to land a big score from “Big Oil,” all under the guise of repairing Louisiana’s coastal erosion. What they’ve done instead is taken Louisiana out of the running for most new oil industry investment capital.
Republican state Sen. Bob Hensgens, of Gueydan, is sponsoring a bill that Louisiana’s judicial hellhole apologists claim would shut down legacy lawsuits in the state. Good. The state’s oil industry is currently on life support thanks to the COVID-19 scare drying up global consumption. The oil industry was also blindsided with another blow recently when Saudi Arabi and Russia failed to reach an agreement on cutting production. The failure to reach a deal led the two oil-producing nations to engage in a price war, dumping millions of barrels of oil onto the market. The price of oil at one point dropped below zero.
These are not good times for states like Louisiana that depend on the oil and gas industry for jobs and opportunities for families. But other states don’t have the added pressure of an army of lawyers with thousand-dollar suits looking to purchase their third and fourth vacation homes while destroying an industry that once meant so much to the health and vitality of our economy. Now more than ever, it’s time to put a stop to trial lawyers’ war with Louisiana’s oil industry. If we don’t stop it soon, there may not be anyone left in the industry to sue.
“Ending the lawsuits would allow oil and gas producers to use their money on operations and retaining employees rather than paying to fight lawsuits,” said Gifford Briggs, head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
Louisiana’s oil industry has been under siege since Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, launched what The Wall Street Journal described as a shakedown of the industry when first elected. I’ve heard from several oil industry insiders who tell me since Edwards took office, investors, that is those who decide where to spend capital, for the most part, no longer view Louisiana as a viable option.
The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association expects half of its members to file for bankruptcy this year. The trade group claims they’ve already seen a quarter of oil and gas employees in Louisiana lose their jobs since the COVID-19 outbreak. And four in five exploration and production businesses have already started shutting in oil wells.
"We feared these outcomes would take place by mid- to late-May, but the crushing weight of the crisis is taking hold much quicker than expected," said Briggs.
At the heart of the legacy lawsuits is the contention oil companies violated state permits and exacerbated the problem of Louisiana’s coastal erosion. But Republican State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, who supports Hensgens’ bill, says this is a matter that should be determined by the state, not parishes and local governments. After all. it was state permits the oil companies are alleged to have violated. Trial lawyers have been able to entice local governments to sue the oil industry with promises of large settlements that would flow to their prospective coffers.
“It’s going to be a miracle if Louisiana’s oil and gas industry survives the decline in demand and drastic drop in oil and gas prices. That alone is enough to put a tremendous strain on the survival of the industry. Continuing with frivolous lawsuits will just be the final nail in the coffin of Louisiana’s oil and gas industry, “said Hewitt.
Twenty senators have already signed on as co-sponsors of Hensgens’ bill, indicating it should pass out of the Senate. Hewitt says she’s unsure how the legislation would do in the House or whether the governor would veto it.
It’s no secret most of Edwards’ financial support comes from Louisiana’s trial lawyers. Without them, he would have never become governor. Edwards may soon have to decide if he’ll remain faithful to the big-money donors who got him elected even if it could lead to the end of one of the state’s most important industries.
Email Dan: Faganshow@gmail.com.