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Why Are Carbon Capture Wells Controversial in Louisiana?

Some argue the technology would help bring jobs and tax revenue to the state while removing greenhouse gas out of the air. But others fear the projects would disturb natural environments or become safety risks.

(TNS) — Livingston and Tangipahoa residents have flocked to recent public meetings, urging Louisiana parish leaders to stop plans to build new injection wells that would pump carbon deep underground.

Industry leaders and some state officials say these carbon capture projects could bring jobs and tax revenue to Louisiana while keeping greenhouse gases out of the air that worsen global warming. But some conservationists fear the projects could upend natural environments, and people who live near them have safety concerns.

Here's a look at what the the technology is, how it works and why it is proving controversial.

What is carbon capture and sequestration?

Simply put, carbon capture and sequestration is the process by which a power plant traps its carbon dioxide before it is emitted into the atmosphere and buries it deep underground in injection wells.

What carbon capture projects are coming to Southeast Louisiana?

Gov. John Bel Edwards' office has announced several carbon capture projects across the state, though one has become particularly controversial among Florida Parishes residents: a $4.5 billion "blue hydrogen" manufacturing plant by Air Products.

Blue hydrogen is an energy source created by converting the methane in natural gas into hydrogen, with carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

The plan is to pump the blue hydrogen to customers through a pipeline stretching from Galveston, Texas, to New Orleans, according to spokesperson Arthur George III. The leftover carbon would be processed and sent down a 37-mile pipeline to Lake Maurepas, where it would be stored about a mile under the lake's floor.

The plant plans to be fully running by 2026, which would make it the largest carbon capture and sequestration site in the world.

Air Products says the complex will sequester 95 percent of its carbon emissions, totaling over 5 million metric tons per year.

Why Louisiana? Why Lake Maurepas?

During a presentation at a Tangipahoa Parish Council meeting last week, a representative with Air Products told the audience that the company chose Lake Maurepas for its injection wells because it wouldn't require crossing the Mississippi River; doesn't have many oil and gas wells; and was close enough to minimize the size of the pipeline.

He also said the geological conditions of the area are ideal because it lacks major faults, avoids salt domes and has a thick-cap rock layer.

Jean Fotie, a Southeastern Louisiana University chemistry professor and member of Edwards' climate task force, called carbon capture "the most practical, the most cost-effective" solution for the state right now because of its industry infrastructure.

Edwards and industry experts alike have lauded carbon capture as a means of meeting the state's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 while maintaining technology and infrastructure for industry.

" Carbon capture and sequestration are important to Louisiana's efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while maintaining jobs and growing our manufacturing base," Edwards said of the project in a 2021 release.

What's the argument against carbon capture and sequestration?

Environmentalists consider carbon capture to be an expensive and convoluted means of prolonging the fossil fuel industry when the U.S. should be focused on switching to renewable energy like solar and wind.

Residents of Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes have raised concerns about what seismic testing and injection wells could do to Lake Maurepas, which they use for commercial fishing and recreation. Livingston and St. Helena both imposed yearlong moratoriums last month against carbon capture wells to keep industry out.

Lake Maurepas' wildlife — which includes blue crabs, rangia clams, sturgeon and even sometimes manatees — have been a source of food and business to locals for decades. Many locals sought fishing permits to hunt catfish as a means of putting food on the table amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local fisherman John Hoover told the Tangipahoa Parish Council last week.

"This estuary and ecosystem are of great importance for the cycle of life and must be preserved for generations to come," Hoover added.

Could the pipelines leak? What happens if they do?

Residents aren't just concerned about the wells; they worry about the pipelines that carry carbon to them.

In 2020, a liquid carbon pipeline in Statartia, Mississippi, ruptured, hospitalizing 49 residents and forcing about 300 more to evacuate.

Federal regulators said the company was negligent in preparing for potential hazards and didn't sufficiently inform the public. Air Products has told residents it has "robust" public awareness and training programs, and has ongoing monitoring technology to find leaks.

The project manager for the Lake Maurepas pipeline said one key problem with the Mississippi pipeline was that it also carried hydrogen sulfide, which leaked. This pipeline, he said, won't have that problem.

Opponents of carbon capture argue the condensed carbon itself can be corrosive to pipelines, which increases the chance for leakages and ruptures over time.

What are the economic benefits?

An Air Products official told the Tangipahoa Parish Council last week that the company will pay property taxes for the pipeline and sales taxes for materials, equipment and supplies in the construction process, though he did not have a specific revenue figure.

The project will also create 170 permanent jobs and more than 2,000 construction jobs, according to Air Products' website.

What's next for the projects?

The next development in the project will be a seismographic survey conducted by Exoduas Inc. for Air Products to model the bottom of the lake, which began Saturday and will run through March.

The survey will involve detonating 5 pounds of dynamite in various spots 60 feet below Lake Maurepas. It's necessary to obtain the permit for the wells.

Air Products also plans to construct two test wells in the lake, which will require permits through the state Department of Natural Resources. It has applied for one of the permits and has begun preliminary work for the other.

The final step in the approval process will be permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to build the main wells themselves.

However, the federal government could choose to let Louisiana approve the permits. The only two other states that have that power are Wyoming and North Dakota.

What's the long-term future?

Fotie said he personally doesn't see carbon capture being the long-term solution for climate change — it's just the best option available to industry right now. In the coming decades, technology will need to develop to allow for solutions beyond carbon storage.

"I don't think it's going to be, in my opinion, what we're going to do 10 years from now or 20 years from now," Fotie said. "I really think we're going to have to find a way to not just store that CO2 underground, but figure out a way to actually turn it into something that can be permanent or reusable."

Air Products will host another informational meeting at the Ponchatoula Lions Club on Oct. 17.

(c)2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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