st. tammanyCo-author Brooke Sizer

The state laws of Louisiana regulating oil and gas exploration and production will trump local regulations. See St. Tammany Parish Government v. State of Louisiana, Office of Conservation. (Forgive us for that word that should be avoided in a civil society.) 

The conflict

St. Tammany is a home-rule charter parish that adopted a Unified Development Code. The Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation later issued an order adopting a drilling and production unit and issued a permit to Helis Oil & Gas Company for a well that would be located in an area zoned as residential.

St. Tammany Parish sued to declare the drilling permit illegal because their zoning designation trumped prevailed over the right of the Commission to issue the permit.

The State prevails

The trial court and court of appeal ruled for the State. The appellate court first looked at “the extensive body of law that addresses every phase of the oil and gas exploration process … .”  The court focused on La. R.S. 30:28F:

The issuance of the permit by the [C]ommissioner … shall be sufficient authorization … to enter upon the property … and to drill in search of minerals thereon. No other agency or political subdivision of the [S]tate shall have the authority, and they are hereby expressly forbidden, to prohibit or in any way interfere with the drilling of a well or test well in search of minerals by the holder of such a permit. [Our emphasis.]

The court acknowledged that local power to regulate land use and zoning within its boundaries is not preempted unless it is the clear and manifest purpose of the legislature to do so.  However, St. Tammany’s zoning ordinances must yield to state law based on La. R.S. 30:28F.  “… [H]ereby expressly forbidden…” clearly and manifestly evinces the legislative intent to preempt that area of the law.

The pervasiveness of the legislation, which addresses every aspect of oil and gas exploration as well as the need for uniformity and the danger of conflicts between the enforcement of local laws, demonstrates the legislative intent to impliedly preempt that area of the law.  Therefore, local zoning ordinances are preempted by state law insofar as they affect the State’s regulation of oil and gas activity.

The court cited Art VI, §9(B) of the Constitution, “Notwithstanding any provision of this Article, the police power of the [S]tate shall never be abridged.”  The Commissioner’s power is an exercise of the State’s police powers.  The grant of zoning powers to local governments was not as important.

The court rejected the contention that the Constitution gives concurrent power to the State and the local governments to protect health, safety, and welfare, citing Article IX § 1 of the Constitution.

Finally, the court applied the ordinary meaning of “consider” and held that the Commissioner did “consider the master plan” as required by statute.

Musical interlude, presidential edition

Today we honor every voter who promises to emigrate if (insert name of candidate) is elected president.  The first tune is Reggae-inflected, Caribbean-by-white-guys; the second is real Reggae.