Coastal Louisiana LNG buildout continues
Despite chronic air pollution and equipment malfunctions from an LNG terminal in Cameron Parish, more projects are moving forward.
Two more LNG projects are inching forward in southwest Louisiana, an area that is quickly becoming ground zero for the U.S. LNG bonanza.
In early March, Louisiana regulators took public testimony for the proposed Commonwealth LNG project, which will be situated at the mouth of the Calcasieu River, where it empties out into the Gulf of Mexico. A day later, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), accepted comments from the public on a separate project on the other side of the river, Venture Global’s CP2 project.
If they move forward, these two facilities, along with several more on the drawing board, would result in enormous quantities of gas piped to the Louisiana coast and exported abroad.
A recent study by research firm Wood Mackenzie finds that 16 new LNG projects are either moving forward or are proposed for the U.S. Gulf Coast, which could result in $100 billion invested over the next five years. Many are planned for Louisiana.
Increasingly alarmed by the growing number of gas export terminals planned for the region, a number of local fishermen, shrimpers, and community groups spoke out at the hearings, warning that Louisiana is at risk of wrecking the coastline and ruining the livelihoods of people who live and work on the water.
“I am deeply connected to this community, and what I see is there’s a wolf at the door knocking with an opportunity – and they think we have no other option than to open the door,” James Hiatt, a former refinery worker who recently founded For a Better Bayou, a local NGO opposing the LNG buildout, said at the public hearing. “That wolf is going to eat us.”
Others spoke out in favour of more LNG. Scott Trahan serves on the Cameron Parish Police Jury, a local governmental position roughly equivalent to a county executive or county council in other states. Trahan also works at Venture Global, the LNG company, as a field operator. At the hearing, he said LNG is “positive,” with jobs and salaries over $100,000, bringing wealth to Cameron Parish.
He also characterized the gas export terminals as “clean energy,” a comment that prompted laughter among the audience.
The crowd at the hearing in the town of Cameron may not have bought into the “clean energy” framing, but roughly 130 miles away, oil and gas executives gathered in Houston for a major industry event, where they echoed Trahan’s sentiment. At the annual CERAWeek Conference, industry insiders repeatedly talked up gas and LNG as a climate and energy transition solution.
But that argument is not a convincing one to John Allaire, who lives less than a mile from Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG site in Cameron Parish. His 311-acre property at the edge of the estuarian marsh is home to birds, ducks, alligators, rabbits, crabs, shrimp, and a variety of other wildlife. Allaire says LNG is “not clean energy” — and he’s got the pictures to prove it.
As Gas Outlook previously reported, Calcasieu Pass LNG has been flaring more or less constantly since it began operations early last year. Flaring gas is only supposed to occur during startup and shutdown, or otherwise during emergency situations. But Allaire and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an NGO, documented that Calcasieu Pass flared 84 days out of the first 90 days of operation.
The problems still have not been fixed. “They continue to flare. They were flaring this morning, they were flaring last night,” Allaire said, speaking to Gas Outlook on March 7. He has a catalogue of photos stretching back many months, depicting enormous flames and black smoke spewing out of flare stacks at Calcasieu Pass.
The company, Venture Global, has said very little about the problems the facility is having, but the near-constant flaring is likely a sign that there are substantial malfunctions with equipment.
“Their current facility — they bragged was built more quickly than any other gas export terminal ever. And it’s a catastrophe,” Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, told Gas Outlook. “They have some sort of crisis happening for sure. And I’m not speaking in hyperbole. When you have a facility that has been operational for as long as they have, and they’re still having these problems, something is deeply, deeply wrong.”
According to regulatory filings that the company needs to submit to Louisiana state regulators, Calcasieu Pass has had a long list of equipment failures, with no solution in sight.
“The hot oil heaters are a custom designed solution for the facility and have experienced unexpected outages beyond the control of [Venture Global Calcasieu Pass] since initial startup,” the company stated in a September 2022 report, adding that it is trying to find a remedy with the manufacturer.
But the end result is that the facility is spewing carbon monoxide, particulate matter, formaldehyde, and nitrogen oxides at levels well beyond what is allowed in its permit. The flaring continues at all hours.
And yet Venture Global wants to expand. In early March, FERC was holding a hearing in Cameron Parish on the company’s CP2 project, another proposed terminal that would be immediately adjacent to its troubled Calcasieu Pass facility.
“They don’t even know how to run the thing and they want to build another one,” Rolfes said.
Virginia-headquartered Venture Global did not respond to questions from Gas Outlook.
The company is not slowing down. Venture Global recently announced that it has signed a 20-year contract with China Gas Hongda Energy Trading Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of China Gas Holdings Limited. The contract for 2 million tonnes of LNG per year (mtpa) includes 1 mtpa from the company’s Plaquemines LNG in southeastern Louisiana, along with 1 mtpa from the proposed CP2 project.
LNG buildout continues
Venture Global’s two LNG projects sit on the east side of the Calcasieu River. On the west side would be yet another project, the proposed Commonwealth LNG. That one would be even closer to Allaire’s property line.
Allaire testified at both public hearings for the two LNG projects, listing off a series of problems with the proposed site for Commonwealth that he argues go against state law.
For instance, in coastal zones in Louisiana, building big facilities is only supposed to occur on land that sits at least five feet above sea level. But much of the Commonwealth LNG facility will be located on land below that elevation — even below sea level.
To remedy the problem of constructing a gas export terminal on low-lying land that is vulnerable to erosion and catastrophic storms, Commonwealth LNG plans on trucking in sand, crushed rock, soil, and concrete to build up the site. Hauling in all that material will require tens of thousands of truck deliveries.
That may add some elevation, but it will do little to protect against the massive hurricanes that barrel through the Gulf of Mexico. To protect against those, Commonwealth plans on building walls.
Allaire is unimpressed with the solution. “They’re going to put up 24-to-26-foot walls around the property, which will deflect any tidal surge toward my property,” Allaire told Gas Outlook.
In fact, severe weather made worse by climate change is already delaying construction of LNG terminals. One of Venture Global’s other LNG projects, Plaquemines LNG, on the other side of the state in southeastern Louisiana, has suffered delays from storms. But the irony of construction delays to fossil fuel infrastructure from climate change — a crisis made worse by those same polluting projects — does not seem to be giving state and federal regulators any pause. In its approval of the project last November, FERC said that “most impacts would not be significant.”
Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade noted the “hypocrisy” of the state of Louisiana’s ongoing programme to restore and preserve the coastline in the face of climate change, and yet simultaneously state and federal regulators continue to “rubber stamp” new LNG terminals, she said. State and federal money for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) now tops $1 billion annually.
“It’s so beautiful and there’s so much potential there, but they’re transforming it into an industrial wasteland,” she told Gas Outlook. “There’s no scenario in which this makes sense. No scenario whatsoever.”
Hiatt said that the two catastrophic hurricanes that swept through the area in 2020 forced many people from coastal Cameron Parish to move north. The rush to industrialize the coast for gas exports is making life increasingly difficult for the people who remain.
“The people who still live in Cameron are the people who live off the water and need that access,” Hiatt said. “To pave over all of this with more concrete and then decimate the actual fisheries and nurseries where this web of life starts, and can be sustained, is insanity.”