Freeport McMoRan agrees to big coastal damage settlement

Freeport McMoRan agrees to big coastal damage settlement
Pelicans near heavy equipment used in the Queen Bess Island restoration (Source: John Snell)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The state attorney general’s office today announced a $100 million settlement with Freeport McMoRan after years of litigation over damage to the Louisiana coast. While some say this could set the stage for more big settlements from other oil companies now being sued, others say the fight has just begun.

After nearly eight years of litigation, the state attorney general says Freeport McMoran has agreed to pay for its share of damage to Louisiana’s coast.

“We thought it was good to intervene to assure a fair and orderly resolution of claims halt the growing number of new lawsuits,” said Louisiana Attorney general Jeff Landry.

Twelve coastal Louisiana parishes sued individually against some of the biggest oil companies in the world including Shell, Exxon, and BP but Freeport McMoRan just became the first to agree to pay $100 million worth of damages.

“It may set a pattern for how other cases may be resolved and take some of the politics out of this discussion,” said Tulane coastal law expert Mark Davis.

Davis says if the settlement is ultimately approved by the legislature, it will provide significant new dollars to the effort to restore the Louisiana coast.

“This still won’t be a silver bullet, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Davis.

But the head of one of the state’s largest oil and gas associations says the proposed settlement is fraught with problems and he says his members are committed to their own court fights.

“I am disappointed for sure, our members continue to tell us they are not interested in a settlement framework,” said Tyler Gray, with Mid Continent Oil and Gas.

Mid Continent Oil and Gas represents more than 50 oil and gas businesses.

“This is being managed by entrepreneurial lawyers trying to use Louisiana’s legal system to put money in their pockets,” said Gray.

“These lawsuits challenge decades of operations that were conducted lawfully with full knowledge of federal and state officials,” said Melissa Landry, a spokeswoman for a number of oil companies, including BP, Conoco, and Chevron.

While the Freeport deal must still be approved by three coastal parishes and the legislature, the attorney general admits it should not pressure other oil companies to end their long-running court fights.

“My actions today should not be construed as pressuring any of the parties still in litigation,” said Landry.

But one Tulane coastal law expert says others may be inclined to enter similar settlements.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Freeport didn’t think this was a good business deal,” said Davis, adding, " I think this is a good day for the coast if this is approved by the legislature.”

Legislative Approval is not guaranteed. Senator Michael Fesi (R-Houma), says he will do everything he can to keep this from going forward. He says, “Our state cannot afford any more job losses not to mention such a major industry being pushed to other states.”

Copyright 2021 WVUE. All rights reserved.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include title of story.