Amid booming gas exports in Louisiana, environmental regulators aren’t keeping up with their job of protecting the public from pollution caused by the growing industry, environmental advocates said on Tuesday.
With more Gulf Coast export terminals planned, the threats to area residents and their environment will only increase, according to a report from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group fighting the expansion of liquefied natural gas exports.
The report called out what the group described as “operational problems” at two export terminals in Southwest Louisiana: Sempra Energy’s Cameron LNG in Hackberry near Lake Charles and Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG in Cameron.
At Cameron LNG, the environmental group counted hundreds of thousands of pounds of excess emissions of dangerous pollutants, including the climate super pollutant methane and the carcinogen benzene, in reports on file with the state.
At the Venture Global plant, the environmental group identified what it described as a discrepancy between what neighbors are seeing—frequent flaring of gases normally associated with pollution episodes—and a lack of reporting of excess emissions from the company to state regulators.
Though state regulators have warned Sempra Energy about clean-air violations, and the Environmental Protection Agency last year reached an agreement with the company to reduce them, Sempra has not yet been fined for its Cameron LNG emissions, according to the report.
“These folks are saying, ‘We are clean. This is clean energy,’” John Allaire, a retired environmental engineer with BP and Amoco who is a Cameron Parish resident, said in a news conference from his home near the Calcasieu Pass LNG. “But this is not clean energy for Louisiana.”
“These facilities operate under state-issued permits,” said Gregory Langley, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. He did not respond to any specific details contained within the environmental group’s report, but said: “We are always going to be protective of human health and the environment. We operate within the rule of law.”
A Cameron LNG spokeswoman said she did not have time to review the environmental group’s report and could not immediately comment on it.
On its website, Houston-based Cameron LNG said it was developed to meet the growing demand for energy around the world. Recognizing the region’s rich natural heritage of wetlands and wildlife, the company said it is “committed to safeguarding the environment in which we operate.”
Representatives of Virginia-based Venture Global did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On its website, Venture Global said it is “committed to responsible environmental stewardship during all phases of its projects.”
An EPA regional spokesman said that for the documents it reviewed, Cameron had not exceeded any permit limits. “EPA does not provide comments on facility performance,” the spokesman said.
Last year, the U.S. became the world’s top exporter of liquified natural gas.
Based on tracking by the Environmental Integrity Project’s Oil and Gas Watch project, 30 new or expanding LNG terminal facilities nationally have been constructed or proposed since 2016. Southwest Louisiana has been at the center of the growth, with three facilities already operating and several more planned.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, President Joe Biden and the European Commission announced a joint task force that would seek to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels—in part by directing more American LNG exports to Europe through 2030.
One of the proposed plants, known as Commonwealth LNG, would be located on 300 acres adjacent to Allaire’s property. Commonwealth LNG in November secured a key approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is projected to produce as much as 8.4 million tons per year of LNG and emit the equivalent of more than 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, roughly equal to the tailpipe emissions from 700,000 cars.
The emissions that the Bucket Brigade report identifies are not those that are accounted for in the companies’ air permits. They’re the kind that arise out of plant upsets, and from his property on Tuesday, Allaire said the Venture Global plant, which began shipping LNG last year, seems to have had a lot of operational irregularities, with flaring—burning off unwanted gas from pipes—occurring on most days.
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When the flaring occurs at night, it lights up his property.
“When we were out duck hunting yesterday, we could hear the alarms going off,” Allaire said. “It was like the alarms on Star Trek. You know something is going on.”
Flaring is a type of emergency response, said Shreyas Vasudevan, a campaign coordinator for the Bucket Brigade and the report’s main author. It doesn’t make sense that local residents would witness regular flaring but the company would not be filing accidental emission reports with the state, he said.
“There is no telling what is happening,” he said. “We want to know what is happening.”
The problems at the Cameron LNG plant, which began shipments in 2019, largely involved a pollution control device called a thermal oxidizer, which is meant to curb volatile organic compounds. “When they are not working, the VOCs escape,” Allaire said.
At the press conference, shrimper and fisherman Travis Dardar said the plants are also taking a toll on local fisheries and families that rely on fishing.
“The fishing industry has sustained families like mine,” he said. “To allow facilities like this to be built is ridiculous.”
The environmental group urged better enforcement of environmental regulations and a halt to permits for new or expanded LNG export terminals. Local residents along with those in other coastal communities threatened by new gas export terminals, “deserve protection,” according to the report. “More gas terminals would sacrifice the livelihoods of local fishermen, decimate the region’s wildlife, and make storms and pollution much worse.”