State says zoning is a local issue after new fracking lawsuit

State says zoning is a local issue after new fracking lawsuit

ABITA SPRINGS, LA (WVUE) - The mayor of Abita Springs joined forces with the Tulane Environmental Law clinic in an effort to block fracking in St Tammany Parish. The clinic just filed a lawsuit against the state and Helis Oil Co., claiming local zoning should block the project.

"It seems the office of conservation and Helis believe the zoning laws mean nothing in comparison to a drilling permit, and we don't believe that's the case," he said.

Lisa Jordan with law clinic filed suit in a Covington court, claiming that the area north of I-12 is zoned residential.

"Basically it means it's houses and things like garages," she said. "The types of things you would see in any neighborhood. Not any industrial activity."

The issue is a personal one for Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons, who's concerned about an aquifer that made Abita famous for spring water. In May, Lemons reminisced with FOX 8 about his family's long association with the water.

"It was my grandmother's well. For 60 years, people would come in over and fill up their water jugs, he said."

But Helis contends that there have been dozens of wells drilled in St. Tammany Parish, with no contamination.

"This is actually close to some previous wells drilled in this area. There have been over 50 wells drilled in St. Tammany parish," said Mike Barham with Helis oil, back in July.

Helis spokeswoman Virginia Miller said they haven't seen the suit,

"This action appears to be just another attempt to thwart a project with outstanding potential for the parish and America's energy independence," she said.

A spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Conservation said they haven't seen the lawsuit yet, but this type of lawsuit shouldn't affect their decision-making process.

Patrick Courreges said generally speaking, "If there are local laws that say 'you can't do that,' from the conservation department's point of view, that's between the operator and the local entity."

"The zoning code is clear, that things that are not permitted in a residential area, are not permitted at all," said Jordan.

If the court sides with the Tulane Law clinic, Helis has made it clear it has other options.

"We have leases and options on 68,000 acres," said Helis engineer Mike Barham.

Fracking opponents hope for a speedy decision in court.

"I think it's important they can issue this permit any day, and a good chance in the next two weeks," said Jordan.

And there's no guarantee that a judge will issue a ruling before the state issues a permit to frack in St. Tammany. Back in June, an attorney hired by St. Tammany parish filed the first lawsuit challenging the fracking ownership group in Baton Rouge, citing zoning concerns. This latest suit is filed against Helis and the state, but cites similar zoning issues.

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