Energy companies welcome latest ruling in erosion lawsuits

Lawyers for oil companies fighting dozens of lawsuits that blame them for decades of coastal wetland loss in Louisiana are welcoming a ruling that could lead to cases being tried in federal courts

NEW ORLEANS -- Oil companies fighting dozens of lawsuits that blame drilling for decades of coastal erosion and wetland loss in Louisiana are pleased with a new appeals court ruling that could lead to some of the cases being heard in federal court.

The oil companies want all 42 lawsuits brought by six coastal parishes to be tried in federal court, a request that federal district judges had rejected. On Thursday, however, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the judges should reexamine whether cases from two parishes that involved federally overseen oil and gas operations during World War II should be heard in federal court.

Melissa Landry, spokesperson for legal teams representing BP America Production Company, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Shell, said in an email late Thursday that the teams welcome the new ruling.

While the parishes say the oil companies should be held responsible for wetlands loss, the companies say the suits are meritless. “The activities at issue were legally conducted and actively encouraged at every level of government, and they delivered tremendous economic benefits to federal, state and local governments and communities,” Landry said.

A lead lawyer handling the lawsuits said Thursday that the ruling was, in his view, a victory for the parishes. John Carmouche said the decision effectively means that at least 15 of the 42 lawsuits — those that don't deal with World War II-era operations — will still be heard in state court. And, he said, the remainder could also be tried in state court, depending on the results of the newly ordered review.