Jun 23, 2011

Louisiana Court: Environmental Officials Must Test, Monitor Produced Waters

Ruling alleges officials failed to protect public from pollution, possible radiation poisoning from contaminated waters

The Louisiana State Court of Appeal has ordered the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to test the environmental impact of discharges from produced waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ruling upholds the position of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) and its attorney Stuart H. Smith that DEQ failed to protect the public from pollution and possible radiation poisoning when it issued oil and gas permits for exploration without proper monitoring of the resultant impact on territorial waters.

This is a major victory for LEAN and other clean water advocates in Louisiana—a state known for its industry-friendly leanings. The court's decision recognizes the merit of LEAN's allegation that dangerous amounts of radioactive material are released into the Gulf waters every year when commercial oil and gas discharges are dumped directly into the sea.

The toxins associated with these streams can be broken down into three primary categories: organic elements, inorganic heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive material.

Radioactive elements such as radium, thorium and uranium are known byproducts of the oil production process. These toxic elements are extracted from the ground along with the oil and gas, and are separated from the fossil fuels as part of the production process.

The suit filed by LEAN documented that DEQ officials were not requiring rig owners to test for radioactive material in their produced-water discharge or for an independent environmental impact statement to assess the risk inherent in these discharges. The court’s decision states that DEQ failed to protect the public interest based on a preponderance of evidence that produced waters are indeed dangerous. DEQ is now ordered to act.