CCST Response to the West Chambers Press Release dated May 19th, 2014
Citizens of St. Tammany Parish (CCST) appreciate St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee’s (the Chamber) passionate defense of St. Tammany Parish officials who must contend with the very complex economic, social, and environmental issues raised by Helis Oil & Gas Company’s hydraulic fracturing proposal. To be sure, the Chamber’s central mission is to support parish officials’ efforts to promote and regulate business in the parish.
Still, CCST does not agree with the Chamber’s perfunctory acceptance of parish officials’ claim there is nothing parish officials or legislators can do to prevent the Helis’ hydraulic fracturing project.
CCST believes the legal advice parish officials have received to date is appallingly superficial and amateurish; as a matter of willful ignorance or political patronage to the energy industry and wealthy land owners, parish officials have used the legal advice as a shield against mounting public criticism that they are not using all legal and other means at their disposal to vigorously protect the parish’s vital environmental interests. As support for this proposition, one need look no further than the parish’s failure to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ( the Corps) and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (the DEQ) to perform their respective regulatory oversight responsibilities. Indeed, only after CCST sent cease-and-desist letters to the Corps and to DEQ, and subsequently filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and Preliminary Injunction against the Corps, and a similar motion in the 19th Judicial District State Court against the DEQ, did both agencies agree to perform their proper legal duties. Both the Corps and the DEQ have now agreed to provide the public a full permit application from Helis, which seeks to dredge and fill wetlands, and a corresponding water quality certification from the state for its project. Additionally, the agencies will re-initiate the public comment period for another 20 days, until midnight on June 16th, as requested by CCST’s lawsuits.
These meaningful procedural victories will hold the Corps, DEQ, and Helis to the letter of the law and gain valuable time for parish residents to learn more about the environmental consequences of shale fracturing and to consider their full range of legal options. Beyond this initial procedural parry, the parish has an arsenal of legal options available to prevent hydraulic fracturing in St. Tammany Parish. Though one would never know it from the lazy effort parish officials have made to procure competent legal counsel.
CCST understands the path ahead is arduous, and parish residents should too. As in any great cause, we must be realists and idealists. Helis and its cohorts in the energy industry will fall on those opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the parish with the proverbial force of a sledge hammer. Like the tobacco industry a generation ago, which went to astonishing lengths to convince the public that cigarette smoke is not harmful to human health, the oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to convince parish residents that shale fracturing is not environmentally hazardous to the air we breathe and the water we drink. The industry will hire a legion of lawyers, spend obscene amounts of money on public advertising campaigns, donate money to the campaigns of state and local political leaders to influence their votes, and fund junk science undertaken by energy industry shills to convince parish residents shale fracturing can be performed without material harm to the natural habitat and human health. In ages hence, history will recognize the oil and gas industry’s claims about shale fracturing were always preposterous, motivated mostly by an insatiable appetite for financial gain.
But we can only live in this moment, and let there be no doubt that this is the most pivotal moment is the parish’s history. For the energy industry, Helis is the tip of spear: it must ensure Helis fractures its first well or risk losing the great fortune the industry expects to earn by fracking a massive section of the parish.
CCST invites the Chamber and its constituents in the business community to stand with us and residents of our community against fracturing in the St. Tammany Parish. Even when our political leaders fail us, great things can be accomplished by citizens banding together. We believe the Helis Fracturing proposal offers a powerful point of political convergence: environmentalist, the business community, liberals, and conservatives alike all have in common the basic human need to breathe clean air and drink pure water.
Rick Franzo / President CCST
CCST Legal Committee