Local residents and environmentalists warn that the rush to export fracked gas to energy-strapped allies in Europe and the rest of the world threatens to create an “industrial wasteland” in southern Louisiana. At least two export terminals near the Gulf Coast are already releasing toxic air pollution as massive ships are loaded with liquified natural gas, or LNG.
The climate crisis demands a steep reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased global demand for gas produced in the vast fracking fields of the United States. The industry is pushing to rapidly expand gas pipelines and liquification plants to feed existing export terminals while building out new terminals along the Gulf Coast, which would lock in access to global markets for decades and ensure a future for fossil fuels even if the U.S. decides to embrace renewable energy.
In southern Louisiana, where the industry has proposed building or expanding up to 13 LNG export terminals, two massive terminals in Cameron Parish are upending the lives of local residents and facing stiff opposition from environmentalists, who claim the facilities are underreporting accidents and pollution to regulators. The LNG boom also raises serious climate concerns: If all the proposed facilities are built, LNG export terminals would produce a combined 56.9 million tons of greenhouse gases each year in Louisiana alone.
On Wednesday, local fisher Travis Dardar spoke at a press conference on a residential property next to Venture Global’s new Calcasieu Pass LNG terminal. The white dome of a massive gas tank loomed in the background.
“Behind me is one of the many plants that has destroyed my life and the lives of many other fishermen,” Dardar told reporters via video. “They come and take over everything…. They have no consequences, and no remorse for the fishing industry that has sustained families like mine.”
Dardar was joined by John Allaire, a retired environmental engineer for the fossil fuel firms BP and Amoco who has lived on the property now bordering the Calcasieu Pass for 25 years. Living in the epicenter of the expanding LNG export industry, Allaire said he observes near-constant flaring, the fiery and toxic burn-off of excess gas from emissions stacks at the fossil fuel facility.
“Yesterday morning, when I went duck hunting, they had a big flare going, and same as the day before,” Allaire said. “We could hear the alarms going off this morning that something was going on. I hear alarms two or three times a week.”
Flaring is not an uncommon sight in southern Louisiana, where dozens of fossil fuel refineries and petrochemical plants dominate rural landscapes. Flaring at gas facilities releases methane, a potent climate-warming gas, along with dangerous air pollutants such as benzene. From time to time, massive flares rising above the tree line — or exploding like a fireball across the sky in at least one severe case — alarm local residents and leave a foul smell in the air.
Flaring is supposed to be an emergency mechanism for LNG terminals such as Calcasieu Pass. Periods of heavy flaring are associated with shutdowns and operational problems, according to a new report from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group working with residents to stop LNG expansion. However, since May 31, 2022, the Calcasieu Pass LNG terminal has only reported two air pollution accidents to regulators, as required by permits and the law. Residents and watchdogs documented extensive flaring during this time, leading them to conclude that the facility is failing to report releases of dangerous pollution to regulators. Allaire said pollution in the air around his home has increased since the export terminal began operating.
“More LNG will make more air quality issues,” Allaire said.
Calcasieu Pass is operated by Venture Global LNG, an international purveyor of gas fuel that is liquified for global transport on barges. With the capacity to export 12 million tons of liquefied gas annually, the Calcasieu Pass LNG export terminal came online in January 2022 and was constructed faster than any other LNG terminal in history, according to the report. The company plans to expand its operations and build a facility with more than twice the capacity at Calcasieu Pass, along with two other export terminals along southeastern Louisiana’s sensitive coastline and estuaries.
Dardar says Venture Global wants to buy out residents like him to build the new, expanded facility, known as CP2. So far, Dardar has refused and claims the company has made shifting offers. Last July, federal regulators suspended a crucial environmental review for the facility, reportedly because Venture Global did not provide required information. That means construction could be delayed, but Dardar says the current facility has already choked off access to fishing grounds and polluted waterways with dredging. He said CP2 would decimate the fishing and shrimping trade that has been the lifeblood of the region for generations.
“They say they’ll respectfully build through oyster reefs, but how can you do it respectfully?” Dardar said. “If they build this here, then it will be the end of commercial fishing.”
A spokesperson for Venture Global did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email by the time this story was published.
The Bucket Brigade report also takes a close look at the Cameron LNG terminal, located across the Calcasieu Lake from the Calcasieu Pass terminal. The Cameron LNG terminal has seen repeated failure of equipment known as thermal oxidizers, causing flaring and other emissions to be released into the atmosphere, according to the report. Four accidents reported to regulators in 2022 were responsible for more than 23,000 pounds of methane and 696.5 pounds of pollutants known as volatile organic compounds, which can cause a number of health problems in the human body.
The report alleges that information was missing from some pollution reports Cameron LNG filed with regulators, suggesting the actual levels of pollution could be higher. However, Anya McInnis, a spokeswoman for Cameron LNG, told Truthout in a brief statement that the facility was in “compliance with state and federal regulatory agency reporting requirements.” The company is committed to “socially responsible” liquified natural gas, McInnis said.
There are undoubtably some residents of southern Louisiana who see the LNG boom as a source of jobs and economic opportunity, but environmentalists say there is nothing “socially responsible” about turning a sensitive coastal region into a sacrifice zone. Gas produced in the U.S. carries huge geopolitical significance, particularly now that the world’s other major supplier, Russia, has become a global pariah for invading Ukraine. However, exporting that gas will leave a huge industrial footprint along the Gulf Coast and ensure that fracking and drilling continue despite the climate crisis.
“To concentrate so many gas export terminals in one area shows a great disdain for the people of Louisiana,” said James Hiatt, the Bucket Brigade’s coordinator in southwest Louisiana. “Louisiana has always been a sportsman’s paradise. We were talking about duck hunting. You could live off the land here in Cameron Parish, but now they’re turning this area into an industrial wasteland.”
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