State courts keep wetlands loss suits against oil companies

Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Oil companies facing lawsuits blaming them for coastal wetland loss in Louisiana lost an attempt Monday to move the suits to federal court.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a decision keeping the suits in state court, where the six coastal parishes want them tried.

The lawsuits, some of them dating to 2013, charge that oil and gas firms failed to follow state law in drilling wells, building canals, disposing of wastes and other activities that contributed to coastal wetlands loss.

Industry representatives cast the suits as an unjust attack — led by trial lawyers — on a vital industry and employer.

Monday’s 5th Circuit decision dealt with cases filed by two parishes, Cameron and Plaquemines, but attorney John Carmouche, a lead attorney for the parishes, said it effectively applies to four others, which include Jefferson, Vermilion, St. Bernard and St. John the Baptist.

The ruling by Judge James Ho on behalf of a three-judge 5th Circuit panel said the energy company defendants, which include Chevron, Exxon-Mobil ConoccoPhillips and others, had tried and failed in earlier attempts to have the state cases moved to federal courts. The latest attempt came after one of the parishes filed a report in one of the cases that the oil companies said included new information that warranted moving the cases to federal jurisdiction: that some of the wells involved in the lawsuits were drilled during World War II while the companies were acting under the authority of a federal wartime agency.

“We conclude that the information disclosed in the expert report did not provide new information previously unavailable to the companies,” Ho’s opinion said.

John Carmouche, a lead lawyer for the parishes, said the oil companies’ attempts to move the cases to federal court were a delaying tactic. He said he is hopeful now that a trial date can be set.

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, an industry group that has strongly opposed the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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