Judge Throws Out Permit For Fracking Exploration In Wetlands

Abita Springs got a win against an oil and gas company Monday, when a judge ruled that the state didn’t adequately evaluate the environmental risks. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN/THINKPROGRESS
Abita Springs got a win against an oil and gas company Monday, when a judge ruled that the state didn’t adequately evaluate the environmental risks. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN/THINKPROGRESS

A Louisiana district court judge on Monday threw out — at least temporarily — a permit for fracking exploration in wetlands about an hour outside New Orleans.

The judge ruled that a division of the Department of Conservation failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of the permit, including the implications of a nearby fault line. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will have to reevaluate the permit application for Helis Oil and Gas.

“They didn’t go through the environmental impact analysis that we said they had to do,” said Lisa Jordan, deputy director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and the attorney representing Abita Springs on the case.

Jordan told ThinkProgress the environmental review of the permit was “boilerplate” and did not truly evaluate the potential costs of contamination to fresh water in the area. Abita Springs, a place known for its pristine water and that’s home to Abita Brewing Company, is located in St. Tammany Parish.

Jordan said the DNR usually rubber-stamps permits like these. “It was really big in the sense that this was the first oil and gas drilling and certainly fracking [permit] where a judge said you still have to do all these things,” she said.

Abita Springs, as well as the parish and a community group, have been fighting the plan to frack there for over a year. There are currently other ongoing legal actions. One suit, which claims the permit violates local zoning laws, has resulted in a cease and desist order. The town of Abita Springs has also sued the Army Corps of Engineers for failing to hold adequate public meetings. There will be a hearing on that issue in October. Both the state and the Army Corps must grant approvals for drilling in wetlands to occur.

The wetlands in St. Tammany Parish are the sole source of drinking water for miles around, and residents are concerned that fracking — and the accompanying wastewater disposal — will put the waters at risk of contamination. St. Tammany Parish is the fastest growing parish in the state, Jordan said, prized for its “safe, quiet, clean” environment.

Louisiana has long been an oil and gas state, but fracking comes with additional concerns, and any development in wetlands can be problematic. Wetlands are natural buffers to the effects of climate change, including both flooding and drought. In addition, they are important to regional biodiversity and erosion control. Louisiana loses a football field’s worth of land every hour, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Part of the loss of land is due to oil and gas development.

Jordan said the industry expects — and the state provides — special treatment.

“It’s oil and gas, and oil and gas reigns supreme,” she said.

But Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Helis Oil, said Monday’s ruling is just another delay, and DNR will have to simply provide more information.

“We continue to believe that it’s not a question of ‘if’ it’s going to happen, but ‘when’ it’s going to happen,” Beuerman told the Times-Picayune.