Massive Damages|Demanded From Big Oil

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The flood protection authority that maintains levees in greater New Orleans sued 99 oil and gas companies Wednesday, claiming that “hundreds of thousands of acres of the coastal lands that once protected south Louisiana are now gone as a result of oil and gas industry activities.”
     The Board of Commissioners of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority sued BP, Koch Industries, Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil, among dozens of others, in Orleans Parish Court.
     The board claims “what remains of coastal Louisiana is slipping into the Gulf of Mexico through a combination of direct removal, erosion, and submergence, sinking at the fastest rate of any coastal landscape on the planet.”
     The lawsuit states: “Charged with operating the flood protection system that guards millions of people and billions of dollars worth of property in south Louisiana from destructive floodwaters, the Authority has one of the most important and challenging jobs in the state. The Authority is entrusted, per La. Const. Art. IX §1, with monitoring the integrity of Louisiana’s coastal lands, which are an essential complement to the Authority’s flood protection system and which assist the Authority in protecting the people and properties behind the flood walls and levees. The Authority’s job has become exponentially more challenging because of the deterioration and disappearance of Louisiana’s coastal lands.”
     The Authority says the loss of coastal lands has had and will continue to have dire consequences.
     “Coastal lands have for centuries provided a crucial buffer zone between south Louisiana’s communities and the violent wave action and storm surge that tropical storms and hurricanes transmit from the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal lands are a natural protective buffer, without which the levees that protect the cities and towns of south Louisiana are left exposed to unabated destructive forces.
     “This natural protective buffer took 6,000 years to form. Yet, as described below, it has been brought to the brink of destruction over the course of a single human lifetime. Hundreds of thousands of acres of the coastal lands that once protected south Louisiana are now gone as a result of oil and gas industry activities – all as specifically noted by the United States Geological Survey. Unless immediate action is taken to reverse these losses and restore the region’s natural defense, many of Louisiana’s coastal communities will vanish into the sea. Meanwhile, inland cities and towns that once were well insulated from the sea will be left to face the ever-rising tide at their doorsteps.
     “For nearly a century, the oil and gas industry has continuously and relentlessly traversed, dredged, drilled, and extracted in coastal Louisiana. It reaps enormous financial gain by exploiting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources, sharing some of that bounty with the many residents whom it employs. Yet it also has ravaged Louisiana’s coastal landscape. Racing to extract the region’s resources, it has created an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals that slashes the coastline at every angle. This canal network is a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction that injects seawater, which contains corrosively high levels of salt, into interior coastal lands, killing vegetation and carrying away mountains of soil. What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner.”
     The lawsuit states that “since the 1930’s, land loss in the Mississippi Deltaic Plain has been extraordinary in scale and is anticipated to grow at an aggressive pace.
     “Estimates conclude that the coastal lands that have historically protected New Orleans in particular have been reduced by more than half in recent decades, and the rest is rapidly disappearing.
     “The coastal lands that remain have been left severely diseased by the constant intrusion of corrosive saltwater, leaving them highly susceptible to being washed away by the next storm. This consequence was demonstrated by the tremendous excavation of wetlands caused by Hurricane Isaac in August 2012.
     “That lost land has been, and continues to be, replaced by open water. Projections anticipate that most of what remains will disappear by the end of the century, if not sooner. …
     “As coastal land loss spirals towards a point of no return and the Buffer Zone dwindles, it will become increasingly difficult to build levees high and strong enough to protect the communities inside those levees; indeed, it will become impossible. In the coming years, the levees will be rendered de facto sea walls, a stress that the levee system was not designed to withstand.
     “In short, the Buffer Zone is essential to the flood protection that the Authority must provide. Without that Buffer Zone, the Authority faces not only exponentially increased costs of providing flood protection, but also the very real possibility that it will be incapable of providing the flood protection for which it was established.”
     The oil and gas industry began exploration and development in Louisiana’s coastal zone in the early 1900s, setting off nearly 100 years of profitable oil and gas production.
     “Thousands of wells have been drilled in Louisiana, and a majority of our nation’s offshore oil and gas has been produced off Louisiana’s coast while a significant percentage of our foreign and domestic oil has come ashore on Louisiana’s roads and waterways,” the complaint states.
     “In connection with exploration and development, oil and gas production and pipeline companies together dredged a network of canals to access oil and gas wells and to transport the many products and by-products of oil and gas production.
     “Continuous and ongoing oil and gas activity has scarred Louisiana’s coast with an extensive network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals.
     This canal network intersects with pre-existing natural channels and water bodies, chopping the once thriving and cohesive coastal ecosystem into thousands of smaller, decaying patches. …
     “Oil and gas activities continue to transform what was once a stable ecosystem of naturally occurring bayous, small canals, and ditches into an extensive – and expanding – network of large and deep canals that continues to widen due to defendants’ ongoing failure to maintain this network or restore the ecosystem to its natural state.
     “That canal network continues to introduce increasingly larger volumes of damaging saltwater, at increasingly greater velocity, ever deeper into Louisiana’s coastal landscape and interior wetlands.
     “The increasing intrusion of saltwater stresses the vegetation that holds wetlands together, weakening – and ultimately killing – that vegetation. Thus weakened, the remaining soil is washed away even by minor storms.”
     The Authority adds that “the removal of fluid from beneath coastal lands is causing subsidence of those lands, contributing to a rate of relative sea level rise in coastal Louisiana that is staggeringly higher than other places in the country.”
     Saving the coast will require a combination of “backfilling and revegetating each and every canal dredged by defendants, used by them, and/or for which they bear responsibility; as well as undertaking all manner of abatement and restoration activities determined to be appropriate, including but not limited to, extensive wetlands creation, reef creation, land bridge construction, hydrologic restoration, shoreline protection, structural protection, bank stabilization, ridge restoration, and diversion projects.
     “If no action is taken, flood damages will increase steadily and steeply in years to come – all as a direct result of defendants’ activities as described above.”
     The Authority says the defendants violated the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.
     It seeks remediation, damages, costs, expenses and attorneys’ fees.
     The Authority is represented by Gladstone N. Jones III of Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison, of New Orleans.

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