Neighbors call for greater scrutiny of Lake Maurepas carbon capture project

By: - November 7, 2023 9:50 am
Cypress trees stand in swamp near Lake Maurepas

Cypress trees remain in the wetlands and swamps of Lake Maurepas. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

A new state task force on carbon capture and storage projects met Monday for the first time and got an earful from opponents of a proposal to store CO2 emissions under Lake Maurepas. While members tried to sort out exactly what they will do on the advisory panel, they heard from neighbors and officials who want to stop Air Products’ plan to store CO2 below the lake bottom.

Some 30 carbon sequestration projects have been proposed in Louisiana, where Gov. John Bel Edwards has made the technology a key part of his climate agenda. Proponents say it’s the best way to contain industry emissions that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Skeptics have questioned industry safety claims about storing CO2 underground and point out that the energy needed to manifest capture and storage would more than offset any carbon removed.

The most vocal opposition at Monday’s hearing came from residents of Livingston Parish, whose swampy southeastern corner reaches into Lake Maurepas. Starting last fall, Air Products spent months conducting a seismic survey of areas in the lake to determine the area best suited for carbon sequestration. The explosive charges needed for the survey were met with scorn from recreational and commercial anglers as well as recreational boaters.

The most eye-raising accusation came from Randy Delatte, the incoming president of Livingston Parish who was elected in October with 71% support. He said fishers checking traps were kept from the areas being surveyed by security personnel armed with assault-style weapons. 

“It seems like it’s easy to do business in carbon capture in Livingston Parish,” Delatte told the task force, “and our people don’t know why that is.”

Air Products spokesperson Christina Stephens said Delatte’s assertion that Air Products’ security contractors are “armed today and daily with semi-automatic weapons is false and irresponsible.” 

“We work closely with our security contractors to ensure the safety of the public and our employees, and on one occasion nearly a year ago a contractor supplied an armed guard for a public demonstration involving active seismic charges,” Stephens said in an email. “This is not an accurate description of our continued safe work on the project today. That phase of our project is complete.”

Livingston residents have also reported their water wells are no longer working after the seismic survey, according to Delatte. Air Products promised it would test such wells, he said, but has yet to do so.

“Carbon capture needs to slow down until the people can catch up,” Delatte said.  

Bill Whittington, a founder of the nonprofit Lake Maurepas Preservation Society, pointed out the existence of a fault line under the lake, which he said could become compromised if carbon is stored beneath it. 

Opponents warned of the potential consequences, citing a 2020 incident when a pipeline carrying liquefied carbon dioxide ruptured near Satartia, Mississippi — about 30 miles east of Lake Providence. Two days of heavy rain caused earth around the pipeline to shift, causing a weld to rupture. A CO2 cloud moved toward Satartia, forcing the evacuation of 200 people and hospitalizing 45.

Carbon dioxide leaks are colorless, odorless and consume oxygen, making it dangerous for first-responders to approach incidents involving significant quantities of the gas. Underwater, they have the potential to adversely affect marine life.   

“I just feel like if they were going to do this in your backyard, you wouldn’t be too happy about it,” Whittington said.

The task force was created in a resolution state Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, authored earlier this year. Its composition includes appointees of the Senate president and House speaker, two members each from the Senate and House natural resources committees, the attorney general, and the director of the Louisiana Mineral Law Institute. 

The resolution calls for the task force to issue a report to natural resources committees by Feb. 15, ostensibly to help lawmakers frame proposals for the 2024 session that begins in March.  

This year’s legislative session saw lawmakers reject more than a half dozen bills that sought to address concerns about carbon capture and storage. The only one approved gives local governments a portion of the mineral rights revenue earned from CO2 projects under state land or waterbeds.

Whether the bulk of carbon capture and storage projects proposed in Louisiana moves forward depends on an important federal government decision. The Environmental Protection Agency must give the state primacy, or the authority, to permit the Class VI injection wells needed to store CO2 underground. Supporters note the technology has been used for decades, but critics point out its primary use has been in the hydraulic fracturing process to extract oil and gas.

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.