- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana has joined the list of those suing the oil and gas industry over damage to the state’s badly eroding coast.

The parish filed a series of suits Monday with defendants - including major oil companies - numbering close to 200. Parish officials did not return a telephone call Friday from The Associated Press seeking comment on the case.

Industry associations immediately condemned the suits as an unwarranted attack on businesses already suffering because of low oil prices.

The suits seek remedies including payments to restore coastal areas allegedly damaged by the companies’ dredging of canals and pollution of marshes, waterways and groundwater.

At least one other parish, Jefferson, has similar state suits pending. And a state flood control board later this month will ask a federal appeals court to revive a suit it filed against oil and gas companies over damage to wetlands.

Defendants include such well-known companies as Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Shell. The lawsuits accuse the companies of digging and using pits for oilfield waste disposal without obtaining proper permits. They say pollution from the pits caused coastal damage. They also allege that the companies violated permits for the dredging of canals in drilling areas. The canals are blamed for saltwater intrusion into coastal wetlands.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Midcontinent Oil and Gas Association harshly criticized the lawsuits.

“Oil is trading around $30 a barrel and historic lows are being reached in terms of production,” Chris John, president of LMOGA said in a news release Friday. “It is getting to the point where oil and gas companies will have to spend more on legal fees than drilling budgets in Louisiana.”

While the parishes pursue damages at the state level, a federal appeals court has set a Feb. 29 hearing date in a lawsuit that pits a south Louisiana flood protection board against dozens of oil companies over similar coastal issues.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East hopes to revive the lawsuit it filed in 2013.

The lawsuit sought damages over the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

A federal judge ruled last year that the board had no legal standing to bring the suit and that the energy companies had no legal duty to protect the board from the effects of coastal erosion.

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