Environmental Property Damages
By: Guy E. Wall
Dramatic changes in the environmental laws applied to oil and gas operations have occurred in the last ten years. On a national and local level, as the population's concern about pollution, particularly industrial pollution, has increased, the legislative branches of government have passed laws imposing strict liability for waste handling practices that were legal at the time they occurred. Courts have liberally interpreted these acts to effectuate their intent. The theme of these legal developments has been to impose remedial liability upon the persons for whom the waste handling practices produced economic benefit, in one form or another.
More and more private claims are being brought for pollution of soil, water and groundwater. These claims are based not only on environmental statutes, but also tort, contract and the Mineral Code. Property damage concepts that evolved during an earlier era to address different problems are being invoked by private litigants to resolve pollution claims, resulting in the inevitable conflicts that occur when a set of rules designed to address one problem is then adapted to address another.
This paper addresses some of the major issues in private property damage claims associated with environmental contamination. Of course, the government also has broad powers to address pollution. Some federal statutes, notably CERCLA, also create a private cause of action. But those are subject for another day. This paper will sketch the contours of private claims for environmental property damages under Louisiana law and discuss some of the major issues inherent in such claims.