Hilcorp and careless practices hearing today in Belle Chasse

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The LDNR Office of Coastal Management (“OCM”) will hold a public hearing today, to gather concerns about propwashing and other oil-and-gas industrial activities that damage oyster fisheries and the coastal zone.

The hearing will take place this Thursday, March 16, at 6:00 pm at the Belle Chasse Auditorium (8398 Hwy. 23, Belle Chasse, LA 70037).

The coastal use permit application that precipitated this public hearing involves Hilcorp Energy Company, Louisiana’s largest coastal oil driller. A Plaquemines oysterman videotaped Hilcorp propwashing an access channel (again) across his lease, to pull a deep drilling rig through shallow-water. When the Louisiana Oystermen Association (“LOA”) found out that Hilcorp did so without a permit, LOA asked Hilcorp to stop. Rather than stop, Hilcorp told regulators that a permit was not needed because the water was deeper, and its vessels more shallow, then they actually were. After LOA filed a Clean Water Act suit, Hilcorp applied for an “after-the-fact” coastal use permit. LOA urged OCM to hold a public hearing in considering the application.

Mark Schleifstein’s prior reporting on this event, with a link to video footage, is found here: http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2016/07/oyster_growers_sue_hilcorp_for.html.

LOA believes that the manner in which energy companies operate within our coastal zone is significant to the future of the coast and to the health of our fisheries. Damage caused by oil and gas activities are not a legacy relegated to the past, damage is happening now. While LOA believes that OCM should not give permits to serial law-breakers (it’s in the law), LOA’s point of emphasis at this hearing will be more general, advocating for the use of less damaging vessels, pre-existing channels, and directional drilling, over wheel-washing and more harmful techniques. LOA will also ask LDNR to make improvements in its permitting and enforcement of coastal use guidelines, and to consider common sense solutions to protect fisheries and reefs.

LOA believes that a number of fishermen, fishing industry advocates, and environmental groups will attend the hearing to support LOA’s effort and to provide their perspectives to LDNR regarding the shared use and regulation of oil and gas activities within our coastal zone. Concerns that will likely arise will include the lack of enforcement, inadequate depth of permit review, the issuance of permits without requiring feasible, available best practices and technologies, or that damage caused by activities be repaired, and OCM’s general lack of deterrence.

LOA invites you to attend this hearing. We hope this is the beginning of a new reality in coastal Louisiana – where fishermen become the eyes and ears of the Public Trust, and where fishing and environmental advocates find common ground in reforming long standing harmful practices.

Byron Encalade, President, LOA; (504) 236-1527; byronencalade@yahoo.com

Joel Waltzer, Counsel; (504) 430-0844; joel@wwglaw.com

Contributed Report