North Shore fracking fight lands in federal court

Published: Dec. 2, 2015 at 8:29 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2015 at 9:07 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The town of Abita Springs brought its fight against fracking to federal court Wednesday.

Attorneys said the Corps of Engineers failed to follow its own procedures in granting a permit to Helis Oil to begin drilling.

It's a fight that's been playing out for over a year.

"Our stance is the Corps didn't follow the law," said Rachel Ruiz with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

Abita Springs is seeking to have a drilling permit granted to Helis Oil thrown out, saying the Corps failed to consider other non-wetlands sites.

"The Corps granted this 404 permit without going through their stated guidelines of looking at alternative sites," said Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons.

Attorneys for Helis argued that the company did submit four possible sites, but all had wetlands nearby.

"It was very apparent that Judge [Carl] Barbier was familiar with the record," Helis attorney Harry Rosenberg said.

It's an emotional issue that has some residents concerned about fracking in the future should Helis's horizontal well show promise.

"It's a horrible practice, and it breaks my heart that it would happen in Abita Springs," North Shore resident Marta Badon said.

But the company said dozens of other wells have been drilled in St. Tammany without adverse impacts.

Another issue is that of standing - whether or not Abita Springs has the actual right to be in Federal Court. That's a claim that Helis oil said Abita Springs can't make.

"Those arguments were waged, and now we wait for a ruling," Rosenberg said.

"It's in the name, it's about the springs, and that's what this project threatens. If anyone has standing Abita Springs has standing," said Lisa Jordan with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

Judge Barbier will rule later on Abita's claim that the Corps did not consider other sites.

"If they considered it, it's not on the record. The record does not show that they did," Jordan said.

Meantime, Helis's St. Tammany project is on hold while litigation plays out.

Legal challenges against the drilling proposal are also playing out in a state appeals court, which is now considering whether to block the project due to parish zoning rules.

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