Thursday, July 02, 2009

Coalition Settles Federal Suit to Cleanup Mercury Contamination

MONROE, LA (July 2, 2009) - On July 2nd, a coalition of local environmental groups, reached a court settlement with EnerVest Operating LLC of Houston Texas, a major operator of natural gas wells in the Monroe Gas Field. EnerVest has agreed to remove all mercury meters and to clean up mercury-contaminated wetlands and other soils at gas production sites in Ouachita, Union and Morehouse Parishes.

Student attorneys from the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed a federal suit in May 2007 against EnerVest Operating LLC on behalf of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), and the Louisiana Audubon Council.

EnerVest controls more than 4,000 natural gas wells in the Monroe Field and is the largest producer. Close to 800 of its wells, on private property, were equipped with mercury meters, which hold about eight pounds of mercury each. Mercury is a hazardous waste under state and federal law.

After the environmental coalition sent a 90 day notice of intent to sue in December 2006, EnerVest, met with LDEQ and coalition representatives to discuss a Cooperative Agreement to cleanup their sites. A federal suit was filed in May 2007 alleging that mercury was leaking from EnerVest meters in the Monroe Gas field. EnerVest and LDEQ finalized a Cooperative Agreement in January 2008. The plaintiffs believed that this Agreement did not go far enough to protect the environment and continued with their suit.

As a result of the suit and court adopted settlement, EnerVest has removed over 400 active mercury meters and replaced them with dry-flow meters - which do not pollute. EnerVest has also agreed to a cleanup schedule of mercury contaminated sites, and cleanup standards for soils and wetland sites that are more protective than those in the LDEQ/EnerVest Cooperative Agreement.

"EnerVest is setting a good corporate example by settling this case and agreeing to clean up their mercury meter sites, said Barry Kohl, of the Audubon Council. Other natural gas producers in the Monroe Gas Field must come forward with cleanup plans to reverse the mercury pollution. If not, the coalition will continue to seek legal remedies. Leaky meters continue to contaminate private property and public resources.”

"Currently there are 48 mercury-in-fish advisories statewide, including seven within the Monroe Gas Field," said Cynthia Sarthou, director of GRN. "The Ouachita River, Bayou DeSiard and Black Lake have “mercury-in-fish” advisories that caution pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, and children younger than seven years of age to limit consumption of fish." Eating fish with high levels of mercury raises the risk of developmental and cognitive damage in babies and children and has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease in men.

"The cleanup of the Monroe Gas Field will be the first step in reducing the mercury contamination of soil and sediment which impacts our rivers and lakes, says Marylee Orr, Executive director, Louisiana Environmental Action Network. Mercury contamination negatively impacts recreational and commercial fishing, as well as the local economy in the Ouachita River Basin. In 2002, a local man was poisoned by eating mercury-contaminated fish from Bayou Bartholomew." "We are pleased that EnerVest has become the first gas company to start a cleanup of the mercury at its wells on private property. But there are many other companies responsible for abandoned meters and they owe it to the landowners and the public to clean up the mercury spills," said Delta Sierra Chairman, Haywood Martin. The LDEQ has estimated that there are over 20,000 mercury meters in use or abandoned across the state.

The original suit was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Monroe, LA.
Case NO: 3:2007-CV-00817; Judge Robert G. James.
Stipulated Judgment attached as electronic copy


Barry Kohl
Louisiana Audubon Council (504) 861-8465

Haywood Martin
Delta (Louisiana) Chapter of the Sierra Club, (337) 232-7953

Cynthia Sarthou
Gulf Restoration Network (504) 525-1528 x202

Marylee Orr
Louisiana Environmental Action Network (225) 588-5059

Adam Babich
Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (504) 862-8800