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Thu July 25, 2013

Levee Board Sues Big Oil For Wetlands Repairs

A New Orleans-area levee district is suing 97 oil industry companies for damaging wetlands that protect the city from hurricanes. The district is seeking repairs that could cost several billion dollars.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East says it’s suing the oil industry to protect the people and property at risk from coastal erosion.

Authority Vice President John Barry says levees are the last line of defense. Wetlands are first.

“If the whole coast pretty much goes away, and you have the Gulf of Mexico breaking right on the levees — yeah," Barry said. "That is not a sustainable situation.”

The lawsuit says wetlands have been ripped apart by canals that the oil industry built to access offshore reserves. Those canals let in salt water from the Gulf, and that salt water eats away at wetlands.

Don Briggs is president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. He says there are many reasons for coastal erosion, including diversions from the Mississippi River.

“Louisiana’s oil and gas industry is one of the largest employers and contributors to Louisiana’s economy," Briggs said. "And the continuation of lawsuits like this is what drives companies away from doing business in the state of Louisiana.”

Barry says the industry needs to spend some of its profits on repairs they promised in exchange for operating permits.

“We are not blaming them for everything," Barry said. "But they are responsible for part of it.”   

Garret Graves, Governor Bobby Jindal’s point man for coastal issues, issued a statement saying he hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but considers revenue sharing the best solution to repairing the coast.