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La. oil company appeals judge's post-explosion ruling

FORREST COUNTY — A Louisiana-based oil company has appealed a judge’s ruling that upheld a new sign and fencing ordinance put in place by Forrest County after fatal 2009 oil tank explosion.

The appeal by Delphi Oil Inc. of Baton Rouge, La., is among dozens the Mississippi Supreme Court will consider during its March-April term. A decision is expected later this year. The Supreme Court has not scheduled the case for oral arguments.

A Forrest County judge upheld the ordinance last year. The ordinance requires fencing and warning signs around oil field sites in the county. Delphi argued in its lawsuit that allowing the county to pass such an ordinance will cause Mississippi oil and gas regulation to crumble.

Delphi’s appeal drew support from the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board, as well as from more than a dozen other oil and gas companies. Delphi said such safety issues should be handled by the Oil and Gas Board.

County officials contended the ordinance is simply good public safety policy.

Forrest County Agricultural High School student Devon Byrd, 16, and Wade White, an 18-year-old FCAHS graduate, died in the explosion at an unprotected oil well. According to previous reports, the teens had wandered onto the site, owned by Delphi Oil, during the early-morning hours of Oct. 31, 2009. Phillip White said the site was 100 yards from his family’s home.

A cigarette lighter was discovered at the scene of the explosion, officials said.

The ordinance requires oil and gas operations in Forrest County to install a 5-foot perimeter fence with barbed wire standing at least 25 feet away from any site improvements, provide locking gates at points of access to the inside of the fence, display warning signs on storage tanks and provide locking gates on storage tank stairwells.

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