ABBEVILLE — The Vermilion Parish School Board heard a report on a company’s plans to expand the natural gas storage operations at Lake Peigneur near the Iberia Parish border.

Richard Hyde, AGL’s senior director of government affairs, said AGL is the third company to own the facility since its construction in 1994, and it currently employs 11 people, several from Vermilion Parish.

Expansion plans call for the underground natural gas storage facility to be expanded from two caverns to four, increasing the storage capacity from 9.4 billion cubic feet of gas to about 21.4 billion cubic feet.

Hyde said AGL applied for a permit to begin the process in June with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and the plans were currently still under review.

Once that stage is complete, copies of the plans and permit will be placed in public libraries in Iberia and Vermilion parishes and public meetings will be held.

The state will then make the final decision as to allow or kill the $2 million project, which is expected to last about three years and create 200 jobs.

A main point of contention is the company using water from the upper Chicot aquifer to blast new caverns from existing salt deposits below the lake.

“Water will also be pumped from the undrinkable lower Chicot aquifer for the project and the brine would then be pumped 7,000 feet below the surface to prevent future pollution,” Hyde said.

Even though he said the project would use a maximum of 3 million gallons of water a day — about the same usage as a medium-sized rice farm — questions abounded concerning safety on and below the lake as well as the permanent loss of drinking water from the upper aquifer.

Board member Carroll LeBlanc asked if water could be used directly from the lake, especially during heavy rains.

Hyde said this was not feasible because it would drop the level of the lake too low and harm wildlife.

Board member Bill Searle then asked if the well pumping the brine underground could blow out.

Hyde said the well would be cased in concrete like an oil well and capped with a well head.

Board member Tony Fontana asked Hyde if he expected the board to support a project that “would take water from the Chicot Aquifer that we can never use again.”

“There is no way to replace it,” Fontana said.

After Hyde explained that rain water replenishes the aquifer and that 16 million gallons are removed daily, Fontana again argued the water used in the project would be unusable and much would never return to the natural rain cycle.

Hyde then agreed to return at a later date and provide U.S. Geological Services data to better answer board questions.