Equilibrium & Sustainability

Group warns liquefied gas expansion could hurt Louisiana coast

A tugboat helps guide a French ship, known as the LNG Endeavor, through Calcasieu Lake near Hackberry, La. The ship was on its way to the Cameron LNG export facility to pick up liquified natural gas.

A planned expansion in natural gas export facilities could wreck large swaths of the Louisiana coast, a local citizen group warned on Tuesday. 

Two liquified natural gas (LNG) export plants at opposite ends of a southern Louisiana lake have continuously released greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals into the air — without notifying state regulators, according to a report by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a civil society group that represents communities near industrial sites. 

The report accuses Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass terminal and Sempra Energy’s Cameron LNG gas export facilities of consistently releasing illegal levels of toxic chemicals such as benzene and sulfur dioxide. 

Neighbors of the plants also reported nearly continuous — but generally unreported — incidents of flaring, in which the facility burns off methane, a prime component of natural gas that is also a greenhouse gas as much as 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

These residents report that the nights above Calcasieu Lake are often lit up with burning gas flares, “often going on for days with little or no break, and at all hours,” according to the Bucket Brigade. 

“The roaring sound of the flare can be heard from the residents’ properties for long periods,” the report added, noting that local fishermen have also said that Venture Global has “choked off” fishing grounds and seized public boat docks. 

“They come and take over everything. It’s really like an invasion. There’s no life for fishermen if this is done,” local commercial fisherman Travis Dardar said at a press conference in front of one of the facilities.  

“They say they’ll respectfully build through oyster reefs, but how can you do it respectfully? If they build this here, then it will be the end of commercial fishing,” he added.  

Unless federal officials take action, the report warns, “commercial fishing and outdoor recreation activities will become impossible in Cameron Parish. Gas export facilities will make the area an industrial wasteland.” 

The state environmental regulator — the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) — has sent four warning letters to Cameron LNG over its discharges since 2020. But the Bucket Brigade says that the state hasn’t imposed any consequences, and department records show that the last time the state imposed a penalty on Cameron LNG was 2007.

Venture Global did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Cameron LNG declined to comment because the company had not reviewed the report. 

The state regulator responded to The Hill that the “LDEQ responds to every documented complaint it receives,” although “that process can take some time.” 

“We, as a state agency, are always going to be protective of human health and the environment. We operate within the rule of law,” the LDEQ added. 

The Bucket Brigade argues that the two facilities’ conduct — and Louisiana’s failure to bring them into line — is a warning of the impacts a ramp-up in liquified natural gas facilities could bring to the Gulf Coast. 

The Biden administration has backed a ramp-up in exports of this liquified natural gas (LNG) to European countries attempting to drastically reduce their imports of the fuel from Russia. 

That has helped speed up an accompanying buildout of export terminals, where natural gas, a fossil fuel predominantly composed of methane, is refrigerated and pressurized into a liquid dense enough to be worth transporting to overseas markets and loaded onto cargo ships. 

Federal and state officials are backing plans to build a fleet of new liquified natural gas export terminals across the Gulf Coast — 11 of them with construction already underway or soon to begin, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

In Cameron Parish alone, two new plants are under construction, with two more proposed, and several others, including the Venture and Sempra plants, have big plans for expansion.  

Cameron LNG, for example, now produces 14 million tons of LNG each year. It plans to expand its capacity by 150 percent by 2026. That would see the facility, which currently has the fourth-largest LNG export capacity in the country, potentially exporting 21.2 million tons of LNG per year. 

The facilities boost local economies, local officials told The Associated Press over the summer.  

“It’s a significant boon to our economy,” said Eric Tarver, a member of the neighboring Calcasieu Parish School Board. “More than that, it’s a tremendous amount of tax revenue that just dwarfs what we’ve had from any other industry.” 

But critics say the economic benefit must be stacked against the long-term costs to the region — and the world.  

The Bucket Brigade’s findings of a pattern of unregulated emissions could threaten the climate case behind their expansion. 

One major boost to the LNG export trade is the perception that burning natural gas releases less carbon dioxide than fossil alternatives like bunker oil or coal.  

“Natural gas and LNG have proven to be significant in reducing carbon emissions by displacing coal and oil and are essential drivers of the global economy,” the Cameron LNG sustainability report reads.

But while liquified natural gas may burn cleaner once it reaches a German power plant, the emissions required to get it there can substantially reduce those carbon benefits, according to the International Energy Agency. 

These include the energy to liquify it, the gasses released from flaring and the particularly potent raw methane that spills from wellheads and pipelines or from malfunctioning equipment. Since 2019, Cameron LNG has had an average of two accidental releases per month, many due to failures of devices that burn off methane to form less damaging carbon dioxide. 

Failure of these thermal oxidizers means that the facility is sometimes venting raw methane into the atmosphere — a gas that warms the planet 80 times more that carbon dioxide for decades after its release. 

These failures are particularly concerning to the Bucket Brigade because they happen so often in conjunction with storms or heavy wind gusts — a continual threat in the hurricane-prone region.  

“Louisiana has always been a sportsman’s paradise,” James Hiatt, the organization’s coordinator for southwest Louisiana, told reporters. The ongoing construction plans would mean “the end of industrial and recreational fishing.” 

Tags Bucket Brigade Gulf coast liquified natural gas LNG Louisiana
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