Louisiana AG sues Houston company for environmental violations

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Jan. 8, 2008, 6:28am

Oil rig Rowan-Midland

MARSHALL -- The state of Louisiana is claiming its natural resources and wildlife were diminished, fishing waters polluted, and its beaches, coastline, inland, and coastal waters spoiled and befouled through the unlawful discharges of pollutants by the oil rig Rowan-Midland.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. filed suit against Rowan Companies Inc. of Houston for maritime torts and environmental violations on Jan. 3 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit states Rowan Companies made the maritime torts and environmental violations in connection with the maintenance and operation of the offshore drilling rig, Rowan-Midland.

The Rowan-Midland rig was built in 1976 by Levingston Shipbuilding in Orange, Texas. The semi-submersible rig employs 95 people. Rowan Companies sold the rig in 2007.

Court records assert that the defendant discharged pollutants, such as abrasive sandblasting media and garbage including paint cans, rollers and brushes, food wastes and shaker screens. The discharge of these pollutants violated the Clean Water Act and Louisiana Water Control Law, which prohibits discharge of substances into waters without a permit, variance or license.

The lawsuit also accuses the defendant of failure to immediately report discharge of waste hydraulic oil.

The Louisiana attorney general states that during repairs on the Rowan-Midland rig it discharged pollutants into the Sabine River while conducting sandblasting operations. "With respect to the sandblasting, defendant failed to place reasonable containment measures in place, thus allowing spent blasting media to pollute the waters of the United States, including the coastal and inland waters of the state of Louisiana."

The plaintiffs state these alleged actions committed by the defendant constitute trespass and public nuisance against Louisiana. Moreover, these actions "wrongfully interfered with plaintiff's ownership, enjoyment, and/or possession of land and/or natural resources thereon, and/or inland and coastal waters of the state of Louisiana."

The Louisiana attorney general argues Rowan Companies wrongfully and fraudulently hid and concealed its wrongdoings thus preventing discovery until recently.

The suit seeks civil penalties and litigations costs that include attorney fees, court costs, and expert witness costs.

The suit contends defendant Rowan Companies is not disputing the facts or its liability of the maritime torts or environmental violations stating Rowan Companies pled guilty to misconduct on Oct. 9, 2007.

In Case No: 1:07CR148, the defendant entered a guilty plea on charges that between 2002 and 2004 the rig Midland's crew members "failed to immediately notify the discharge of a report able quantity of waste hydraulic oil from the rig into the Gulf of Mexico" and knowingly violated U.S. codes and regulations by "discharging garbage from a fixed or floating platform."

In Case No. 2:07CR193, Rowan Companies also plead guilty on charges that from January 2002 until May 2004 it knowingly "caused the discharge of a pollutant, namely spent blast media from dry dock sandblasting operations, from a point source, the Rig Midland."

The defendant was placed on three years probation and ordered to pay a total of $7 million in fines and $1,200 in assessment fees. The Eastern District of Texas received $5 million and $800 in assessment fees and the Eastern District of Louisiana received $2 million and $400 in assessment fees. The defendant was also ordered to pay a community service payment of $2 million with $1 million to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network and $1 million to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

Rowan has worked with the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard on a pilot program to develop and implement best practices for conducting sandblasting and painting activities of its offshore drilling oil rigs. The pilot program has been launched on four Rowan rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and hopes to replicate this model throughout its fleet.

Currently, Rowan Companies, Inc. has not responded to the civil proceedings.

Houston attorney Francis I. Spagnoletti and Houma, La., attorney Joseph L. Waitz Jr. filed the litigation on behalf of the Louisiana attorney general.

Judge T. John Ward will preside over the litigation.

Case No. 2:08cv002

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Organizations in this Story

Louisiana Attorney General
1885 N 3rd St
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

State of Louisiana
900 North 3rd Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

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