A Pike County landowner says oilfield activity has damaged his property for years, but he can’t get satisfaction from the oil company, the courts or the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board.

David Miller of Terry’s Creek Road, Magnolia, claims the Oil and Gas Board puts the interests of oil companies over landowners, and he has spent $150,000 finding that out.

Last week an oil tank sprang a leak on his property, spraying black crude over ground, trees, bushes and into a drainage that leads to the Tangipahoa River. Keith Gourgues, CEO of oil company Mississippi Resources of Metairie, La., said he expected to get it all cleaned up, but Miller was skeptical based on past experience.

Miller lives amid 500 acres southwest of Magnolia. He doesn’t have mineral rights to his land, and Mississippi Resources pays him $5,000 a year for the use of his property.

He said there have been 14 saltwater spills over the past five years, damaging soil, trees and other vegetation, killing cattle and polluting his pond.

All he got was a $25,000 settlement “12 spills ago” and rejections for further damages from the oil company, the Oil and Gas Board and federal court.

“It’s like wrestling a bear,” Miller said. “The well’s not leaving and neither am I.”

He doubts he’ll see any compensation from this spill, though he expects it will kill pine trees and contaminate soil.

“They haven’t paid for the last one and they’re not going to pay for this one,” Miller contended.

On Wednesday night, Oct. 17, a gasket burst on a treater tank, a vertical tank where oil is heated to separate it from water. Gourgues said 24 barrels of oil — just over 1,000 gallons — spilled and 18 were recovered, leaving six to clean up. A barrel contains 42 gallons of crude.

The next morning, workers from Clarkco Services were at the site to do the clean-up, along with Gourgues, state Oil and Gas Board field director Morris Welch and local inspector Robert Laird of Franklin County.  

Welch said the Oil and Gas Board oversees cleanup on the oil well site, while the Department of Environmental Quality oversees cleanup off-site.

In this case, black oil had spewed into adjacent woods and run down a drain toward the Tangipahoa River but was blocked by a logging road on adjoining property.

“They’ll clean this up,” Welch said. Matters of compensation are between the landowner and the oil company, he added.

Gourgues said Clarkco would flush oil down with freshwater and use a vacuum truck to get it up, plus lay down absorbent pads to remove oil from the grass and ground.

“We go by API regulations — American Petroleum Institute,” Gourgues said.

Welch said Mississippi Resources inherited a bad piping system that was responsible for prior saltwater spills, and moved a tank and pump to improve the situation.

“That was after the lawsuit,” Miller said.

Inspector Laird expressed skepticism that Miller had sustained lasting damage from past saltwater spills.

“The grass is growing right now where they had that spill, isn’t it?” Laird said, adding that the DEQ signed off on the cleanup.

Miller said the soil was tested and registered contamination. He said his cattle have licked holes into the dirt to get to the salt, even ignoring nearby mineral blocks. He has photos that show cows licking the ground near what appears to be spilled oil.

He also has photos of a cow mired up to its neck in a mudhole he said was caused by the oil company. Miller managed to rescue the cow but it died a few days later.

Miller points to massive fallen trees that he said were killed by saltwater. He points to a deep ditch coursing across his property where he said saltwater killed the vegetation, allowing erosion to take over.

“What you do as a landowner is you give up and you move your fences off,” he said.

Miller said he believes oilfield damages have lowered his property value as well.

But he said he’s received the runaround when trying to seek compensation.

He’s taken his complaints to the Oil and Gas Board and to local court, where it was transferred to federal court. In 2018 a federal judge ruled that the Oil and Gas Board had authority, not the court.

“I’m $150,000 into this with lawyers and experts. They (oil operators) spill, they don’t clean up,” Miller said.

“All the legal system sends you back to the Oil and Gas Board, which is a regulatory agency.”

He said he spent thousands on an attorney specializing in oilfield cases just to present his case to the board, but got no satisfaction.

“They’ve already cut the deal before you get there,” Miller contended. “They say everything is fine.”

Miller got a glimmer of hope recently when he read about a case in Jones County where a judge gave a couple the go-ahead to pursue damages against oil companies in court. In that case, Tay and Deidra Baucum sued Petro Harvester Oil & Gas Co. LLC and other companies, claiming they contaminated the Baucums’ property and caused Deidra to be diagnosed with cancer.

But Miller said he can’t afford to keep spending money on attorneys.

“I feel like I’ve lost my battle, that there’s something wrong with the system,” Miller said.

Asked what he wants from the oil company, Miller said, “I’m just asking you to clean up and leave so I can do something constructive.”

Contacted by the Enterprise-Journal, Oil and Gas Board Executive Director Jess New declined to comment.

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