Some people have heard the phrase “legacy lawsuits” in Louisiana, but may not understand exactly what that means. Many people do not realize the nature and extent of damages caused to private property by oil and gas exploration and production. For property owners, this pollution created long term contingent liabilities and impairs the value of their property. Abandoned well sites and old oilfields usually contain pollution created during decades of operations.
This pollution was caused for two primary reasons. First, weak laws and lax regulators allowed oil companies to pollute. Second, pollution accumulates during long periods of operations and degrading equipment creates leaks and spills. However, the law usually allows property owners to seek cleanup of the land they own. The oil industry calls these legal actions “legacy lawsuits” because they concern past operations. The pollution left behind is the oil industry’s legacy.
Oil and Gas Well Drilling Creates Soil Pollution
When oil companies drill wells, they create large earthen pits to hold drilling chemicals and waste. Drilling companies create the pits by digging up the soil and creating a berm around the pit area. The drillers dump drill cuttings and other waste from drilling into these pits. Drilling companies also store and dispose of drilling muds in these pits. Drilling muds contain many different chemicals designed to cool the drill pipe and create density to hold back pressure encountered when drilling deep into the earth. Fracking fluids and chemicals are also stored in large pits during the drilling process. The toxic chemicals created by oil well drilling include:
- Various heavy metals and other chemicals
Oil and Gas Well Drilling Creates Groundwater Pollution
In addition to polluting the land surface, drilling can also pollute the groundwater. The pits discussed above were often abandoned and the waste left in them, sometimes covered over and buried at the drill site. Over time, these chemicals migrate downward through the soil until they reach groundwater. This pollutes the groundwater. The mix of chemicals and waste that the oil companies dumped into the drill pits will continue to pollute the groundwater until these pits are cleaned up. This is done by digging the pits up, removing the material, and disposing of the toxins at a waste site designed to prevent them from causing harm to the public.
Drilling Damages Wetlands
In addition to pollution, wetlands were often damaged by drilling and not restored by oil companies, violating their contractual agreements and legal obligations. Wetlands were often dug up to create access for drilling rigs. Driller built roads to access the sites. They also dug canals to allow vessels to transport people and equipment to the drill site. Some mineral lease contracts create obligations owed by oil companies to restore the property. The law further provides restoration obligations under certain circumstances.
How to Restore Property Damaged by Drilling
All the damages described above can be restored by environmental engineering, but this can be costly, especially if the pollution was allowed to persist for many years. Fortunately, the law provides legal remedies for owners of property to obtain money to compensate for the damages and fund cleanup of their property. A lawyer with expertise in this area of the law is essential to securing a favorable result and protecting the value of property damaged by oil and gas drilling.