Louisiana lawmakers and business leaders frequently lament the fact that the state continues to fall further behind Texas in oil production, even as the U.S. as a whole has surged to become the world’s largest petroleum producer.
The oil and gas industry has often pointed to Louisiana’s legal and regulatory climate as a prime reason for the state’s decline.
One of the potential obstacles to oil production has been a series of lawsuits filed by various coastal parishes against the oil industry over coastal erosion – lawsuits that have been supported and encouraged by the administration of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Now it appears that one of those lawsuits could be coming to an end just as a new survey shows that local residents strongly oppose it. Plaquemines Parish, the most southeastern part of Louisiana, is reportedly set to consider a resolution this week by Parish Council Member Irvin Juneau to abandon its lawsuits against the oil and gas industry.
When the Parish Council meets, members will have a new set of data to consider. The Louisiana Free Enterprise Institute has released the results of a survey it conducted in Plaquemines Parish, which found that 57 percent of likely voters opposed the lawsuits against the industry, while 35 percent were in favor.
“Meanwhile, an overwhelming 99 percent say the industry is important to the parish economy and 84 percent believe that industry is important to their own family’s quality of life,” the institute said in its report detailing the findings of the survey.
The institute also noted that the oil and gas industry pays $20 million in property taxes to the parish each year, and that more than 1,500 people work in the industry in the parish with a combined payroll of $264 million.
The survey was conducted Oct. 4 to 7 and included 300 respondents. Its margin of error was plus or minus 5.6 percent.
In response to the release of the survey, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said it showed a populace that was aware of the importance of the oil and gas industry to their community.
“Unsurprisingly, the results of this survey prove an overwhelming majority of Plaquemines Parish voters greatly value the huge economic impact and quality jobs oil and gas companies provide to parish residents,” she said. “This poll also reveals that voters in Plaquemines understand the threat these coastal lawsuits pose to the high-paying jobs and vital tax revenues the industry generates for the parish and its families.”
Hewitt encouraged the Parish Council to abandon its lawsuits or risk further damage to the coastal economy.
“I join the people of Plaquemines in opposing these lawsuits and encourage leaders in the parish to listen to their constituents on this matter,” she said. “The economic future of Plaquemines depends on it.”
Edwards in 2016 pushed for parishes that had not already sued the oil and gas industry to do so. In a letter reportedly sent to the coastal parishes, Edwards indicated that parishes that refused to join the lawsuits would simply force the state to do so.
At the time, the push by Edwards drew condemnation from Steve Waguespack, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
“The governor signed a letter telling parishes to either sue a valid operating business in their community for conducting legal and permitted operations – or he will do it for them,” Waguespack wrote in an editorial. “Those are the only two options made available. Is this where we are headed in the new Louisiana?”
Edwards, in a 2016 letter to the heads of Oil & Gas Association and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, warned that cooperating with his administration was their only viable option.
“At this point, we have two choices – work together toward an amicable solution or spend years in litigation,” he wrote. “There should be no doubt that it is in the best interests of Louisiana and the industry to choose the former option.”