As a former general counsel for LDNR and a former Exxon employee, it would be difficult to portray myself as anti-oil and gas. I am not and never have been. In many ways, the oil, gas and petrochemical industry has been an important and meaningful part of my life. At the same time, after years of personal and professional experience, I am extremely concerned that the oil and gas / petrochemical lobby has exerted such influence on regulators and lawmakers that some laws have been designed to facilitate the ability of some oil and gas companies to avoid significant financial consequences for the damage they admit to having caused. I can tell you from my first hand experience in the industry that most oilfield operators are good operators. But sometimes these laws are designed to protect only the few, the worst. This is not the way the law should work.
This is why I am very concerned about a certain curious law of unclear intention, unclear origin, without legislative history, and which is worded in a very broad and very dangerous way. The key language of the law is not typical of other laws. The vague wording of the law makes it susceptible to disagreement as to how it might be applied. But this uncertainty is also what makes it so dangerous.
A simple read of the revised 30:51 law shows that it can create a secret three-year countdown in which a state or local official must sue an oil and gas operator to enforce a financial penalty. That alone is enough to raise the eyebrows.
Under normal Louisiana law, the countdown to holding the violator financially responsible would not begin until the regulator or official authority learned of the violation. However, this strange law starts the clock regardless of any knowledge for them. Instead, the law uses a curious term (“made known”) and indicates that the clock starts when an operator “reports” a violation to the state attorney general. What does it even mean to “make known” to the Attorney General? A postcard? Oral statement made in passing? An official letter? Something casually but strategically stated on a social outing? No one knows because the law is so oddly worded.
Here’s a good question for those doubting the possible implications of this law: if this isn’t a free jail release card for bad industry players, then what actually is the goal and the alternative effect of the law? We have to be honest with ourselves: in the oil and gas context bad operators do not write to inform their local and parish authorities when an operator commits an offense for the same reason that citizens do not write letters to the police to report speeding tickets themselves. . With this law on the books, bad operators have a perverse incentive to cover up violations and quietly report to the Attorney General, knowing that he cannot alert local governments and state regulators.
It is bad law and it should be changed. And in my humble professional opinion, until the legislature assembles the temerity necessary to repeal or amend it, district attorneys and local and parish government legal advisers should educate their clients about the dangers associated with the law. revised 30:51 and push the Attorney General to a formal policy ensuring that the public and relevant officials are informed of every violation “brought to the attention” of the Attorney General. Further, in my humble opinion, in certain circumstances district attorneys who fail to warn their clients of the dangers associated with this law may risk breaching their obligation under revised Law 16: 2 (C) to render faithful and efficient services.
I will say more about this in the “The. RS 30:51 Rolling Billboard Legal Writing Contest.”
Isaac “IKE” Jackson, Jr. (Louisiana’s greatest pontificator of La. RS 30:51)