Louisiana carbon capture project draws criticism from environmental advocates

Project would begin in early 2025

By: - October 13, 2022 6:08 pm
carbon capture facilty

A carbon capture facility. (Canva image)

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a decarbonization project Wednesday that he believes could be a prototype for industrial-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), but some renewable energy advocates are skeptical of the project.

The project is a collaboration between three companies to capture emissions from CF Industries’ manufacturing complex in Ascension Parish. It would transport the carbon dioxide through EnLink MidStream’s transportation network and permanently store it underground on property owned by ExxonMobil in Vermilion Parish, according to a Louisiana Economic Development agency press release.

CF Industries recently announced a $198.5 million plan to build a carbon dioxide dehydration and compression unit at its ammonia production facility in Donaldsonville that will play a pivotal role in the project. The unit will allow the company to produce 1.7 million metric tons of blue ammonia annually. A chemical process is considered “blue” when its carbon emissions are captured before being released into the air.

“Today’s announcement of this unprecedented, large-scale, low-carbon partnership is a key milepost on Louisiana’s path toward a brighter future for our climate, our economy and our people,” Edwards said. “The collaboration and innovation to bring carbon capture and storage technology forward at this scale reaffirms our state’s ability to grow our economy without sacrificing our long-term emission-reduction goals.”

EnLink has a system of more than 4,000 miles of pipeline that will transport the carbon to the 125,000 acre geologic storage location in Vermillion. The companies expect the project to begin in early 2025 and estimate they will capture and sequester up to 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to replacing roughly 700,000 gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles, the press release said.

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act includes a variety of tax incentives that are expected to become available for CCS and other low-carbon energy projects.

“ExxonMobil is providing a critical and scalable solution to reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions, and we’re ready to offer the same service to other large industrial customers in the state of Louisiana,” ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions President Dan Ammann said.

However, the project is not without its critics. Advocates for renewable energy said carbon capture technology has struggled to prove effective at a large industrial scale and diverts funding away from solutions that do work.

“[The technology] has a poor track record of reducing carbon emissions in a cost effective manner,” said Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association. “Renewable projects have a proven track record of providing low cost power and hitting production milestones without putting ratepayers at risk.”

Industry accounts for two-thirds of Louisiana’s carbon emissions, research shows

Mahan pointed to a carbon capture project at a “clean coal” Kemper power plant in Mississippi that ended up costing $4 billion over budget and was demolished last year.

Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said projects such as the one Edwards announced Wednesday have been promised by the fossil fuels industry for a long time.

“‘Clean coal’ was supposed to be one of them,” Burke said. “It sounds like a great idea, but we’re not seeing this [technology] scale and certainly not cost effectively. Instead what we’re seeing is these promises are a way for the fossil fuels industry to expand and not contract.”

The CF Industries plant in Donaldsonville is the largest industrial carbon emitter in the state, releasing over 10 million metric tons a year, according to LSU’s 2021 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The industrial sector statewide emits 142 million metric tons and has permitted projects that are expected to emit an additional 101 million metric tons for a projected statewide total of 243 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to LSU.

“These projects — they’re not remotely addressing the gravity or the scale of the situation,” Burke said, adding that she fears if the technology fails to work, Louisiana will be left with greater emissions than it had before.

Burke said it’s only beneficial to the fossil fuels industry to pour so much money into the process when the same objectives can be achieved with proven technologies such as solar and wind power.

CF Industries spokesperson Christopher Close responded to Burke’s comments in an email to the Illuminator.

“Carbon capture and sequestration is a proven technology that has been used safely for decades,” Close said. “It offers the quickest path to significant emissions reductions, as our project will demonstrate with the prevention of 2 million tons of [carbon dioxide] on an annual basis starting in 2025.”


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi.