Incoming Livingston Parish president wants Lake Maurepas carbon storage project put up for public vote

LIVINGSTON — Livingston Parish President-elect Randy Delatte had a simple recommendation for a state task force gathering input on a controversial proposal to inject carbon dioxide under Lake Maurepas: Give the people who live near the lake the same level of consideration given to special interest groups.

Delatte testified Monday before the Louisiana Senate’s Task Force on Local Impacts of Carbon Capture and Sequestration. After hearing from concerned residents at a meeting about three weeks ago, the panel reserved time Monday to hear from state and local officials and researchers with expertise in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). 

Some 30 carbon capture projects have been proposed across Louisiana. While all of them fall into the purview of the task force, the Lake Maurepas project has drawn the most public pushback. Air Products wants to drill wells to inject 5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year about a mile below its lakebed. It’s part of a $4.5 billion hydrogen manufacturing complex in adjacent Ascension Parish that would use CCS technology to pipe the greenhouse gas under the lake rather than release it into the atmosphere. 

The company has already brought drilling rigs and other equipment into the lake for test wells after conducting controversial seismic testing earlier this year. 

Monique Edwards, state commissioner of conservation, told the task force her office has the ability and expertise to regulate carbon injection wells. 

“The bottom line is that the men and women of the Office of Conservation live here, play here and are raising their families here,” Edwards said. “We are all committed to making sure that the state we call home is protected and flourishes.”

One example Edwards pointed to was a proposal to place a CCS “structure” in Livingston Parish about 30 miles from the lake near the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. The experimental physics and astronomy facility is better known by its acronym LIGO. She did not specify what kind of structure or whether it was part of the Air Products project.  

Edwards mentioned how LIGO became a point of pride for Louisiana after it detected space-time ripples from the collision of two black holes. The discovery, made in 2016, was the first time scientists had ever detected such gravitational waves and even yielded a Nobel Prize for the LIGO physicists, but the scientists grew concerned about how the CCS project would impact their facility. 

Edwards said her office spoke with the developer of the CCS structure and got them to relocate the project. 

“We were able to highlight that this was something special to Louisiana, and we did not think it was appropriate for it to be impacted,” she said.  

Keith Hall, director of the Louisiana Mineral Law Institute and chairman of the task force, told Edwards one of the LIGO scientists called him and was “very appreciative of what your office was able to do to help address those concerns that he had.”

However, the anecdote became a sore spot for Delatte, Livingston Parish’s president-elect. He questioned why fisherfolk and residents who live and work on Lake Maurepas don’t receive the same level of consideration.

“Our concerns are that the people are not being heard, and we really really would love y’all to make the same exception that you did to LIGO for the people around Lake Maurepas,” he said.

The task force also invited two LSU experts to testify about the benefits and safety of CCS. 

Asked if carbon capture operations emit more carbon dioxide than they sequester, chemical engineering professor John Flake said it’s possible over the short term but often isn’t the case over longer periods.

“If you look at 10 or 20 years of sequestration, usually it’s by far more beneficial to sequester than it is to emit,” Flake said. 

He pointed to CCS projects in Illinois and Alberta, Canada, that he said have successfully sequestered more than 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the last 10 years.

Mehdi Zeidouni, LSU associate professor of petroleum engineering, explained how he has studied and modeled how carbon dioxide is stored underground and dissipates into rock formations. Louisiana has thousands of feet of rock underground that can provide adequate storage for carbon dioxide without concern over leakage, he said. 

Zeidouni acknowledged it’s possible Louisiana has geological faults through which gasses can migrate but said it’s unlikely they would reach the surface. 

“I’ve never seen a single event of leakage … but it is possible,” Zeidouni said, adding that such leaks are manageable. 

Delatte is concerned about other impacts the project is having on Lake Maurepas. 

“Whether it’s safe or not is not the issue,” he said. “The issue is what’s happening to our lake. You can physically go out there and see the last 18 months it’s getting worse and worse because of their activity. It’s not getting better, and it’s not going to be better five years from now or 10 years from now. They haven’t even started the major construction.” 

Between barges getting stuck in shallow water and large boats traversing the lake, the increased activity has churned up the sand at the bottom of the lake and even caused a fish kill about two months ago, Delatte said, adding that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries responded to the incident. 

Gregory Upton, a researcher with the LSU Center for Energy Studies, said he doubts the task force will take a position either for or against a specific project but asked Delatte for specific items that could mitigate his concerns.

“The number one concern is: Let the people make that choice,” Delatte said. “Let them vote on it. Let them have a say in it. We come to these meetings like this, and y’all are very generous and you take our comments … but it doesn’t go any further.” 

The task force will compile recommendations into a report that will go to the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources. Its next meeting will include testimony from industry executives and will likely take place in January, though a date has not yet been set.

Editor’s Note: The following article from author Wesley Muller was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Read more from The Louisiana Illuminator @ www.lailluminator.com

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