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The Sweet Lake Land and Oil Co. v. Oleum Operating Co., L.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

October 18, 2017

THE SWEET LAKE LAND AND OIL COMPANY, ET AL.
v.
OLEUM OPERATING COMPANY, L.C., ET AL.

         ON SUPERVISORY WRITS FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 2010-1272 HONORABLE DAVID ALEXANDER RITCHIE, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Guy E. Wall Paul E. Bullington Jonathon R. Cook Sara Lewis Wall, Bullington & Cook, LLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT: Sweet Lake Land & Oil Co., LLC.

          James P. Doré Alan J. Berteau Shannan Sweeney Rieger Deborah J. Juneau R. Benn Vincent, Jr. Matthew B. Smith Hattie V. Guidry Kean Miller LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS-APPLICANTS: Sohio Petroleum Company BP Exploration & Oil, Inc. BP Exploration, Inc. BP Products North America, Inc.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Shannon J. Gremillion, Judges.

          ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE.

         Defendants-Relators, BP Products North America, Inc.; BP Exploration & Oil, Inc.; BP Exploration, Inc.; and Sohio Petroleum Company ("BP"), seek a supervisory writ from the judgment of the trial court which denied their Motion for Adoption of LDNR's Most Feasible Plan Pursuant to La.R.S. 30:29 and ordered LDNR to submit a final plan by July 8, 2017.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         This case involves an oilfield contamination lawsuit that is governed by the 2012 version of La.R.S. 30:29, which was originally enacted by 2006 La. Acts 312 (Act). The plaintiff, the Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company, LLC, (Sweet Lake) filed suit against BP, among other defendants, alleging environmental damage to its property caused by decades of oil and gas exploration activities. After trial, conducted from May 11 through May 27, 2015, the jury found BP 100% liable for the environmental damage. On September 11, 2015, the trial court referred the case to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Office of Conservation, (LDNR) for a public hearing and the development of the most feasible plan under La.R.S. 30:29. The judgment also ordered BP to submit to LDNR a plan to "remediate to applicable regulatory standards the contamination that resulted in the environmental damage to the Property." LDNR held a public hearing from April 25 through April 28, 2016.

         Based upon the evidence presented and in response to questions raised by the LDNR panel, the LDNR issued and filed in the trial court record its "Most Feasible Plan and Written Reasons in Support as Required by La.R.S. 30:29" (LDNR plan) on October 3, 2016. Thereafter, on October 16, 2016, BP filed its motion for adoption of LDNR's plan pursuant to La.R.S. 30:29. Sweet Lake opposed the adoption, arguing the motion was premature because the plan was not a "final plan" to clean up the property and was not even a "final plan" to evaluate the property. In reply, BP argued that the LDNR plan was a final plan, as La.R.S. 30:29 specifically contemplates that the final most feasible plan can require evaluation only, and the LDNR plan does much more.

         At the February 15, 2017 hearing, the trial court denied BP's motion, ordering LDNR to perform additional work because the plan was only partially a remediation plan. The trial court's greatest concerns were those "parts" or areas of contamination, namely the groundwater and flowlines, where LDNR admittedly did not have enough information to formulate a remediation plan. In its written judgment, signed on May 9, 2017, the trial court specifically required the final plan to address those questionable areas and provide a remedial plan of action for same:

a. Address groundwater remediation on the property. . . . The final remediation plan may contain clean up options that depend upon the results of additional information and should be accompanied by an estimate of the cost to obtain the additional information. If LDNR is unable to provide the foregoing final remediation plan, it shall provide the Court with information to help the Court better order LDNR to do what needs to be done;
b. Specify the regulation or standard for each clean up activity so that the Court can enforce it;
c. Specify the flowlines on the property and include a remediation plan for flowlines that must be removed; and
d. State whether a response or command was received from any other agency to whom the October 3, 2016 LDNR plan was submitted pursuant to ...

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