NEW IBERIA — Residents and city and parish officials asked the state Thursday to deny a permit to expand a natural gas storage facility at Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish.

Residents and local officials said they opposed the expansion because of concerns over potential contamination and the possible drawdown of water levels within the Chicot Aquifer.

The comments were made during a state Senate Environmental Quality Committee public hearing at Sliman Theater.

The hearing was held because of a proposal made by AGL Resources to expand its Jefferson Island Storage & Hub facility at Lake Peigneur, where billions of cubic feet of natural gas are stored underground in hollow salt domes.

The company has applied for a state permit in which it proposes to pump up to 3 million gallons of water a day from the Upper Chicot Aquifer over the course of three years to scour out the salt dome and create two new storage areas under Lake Peigneur.

The project has drawn sharp opposition from residents and officials who have expressed fear about the impact to the aquifer, which provides drinking water to more than 20 parishes.

Those concerns include fears that such a prolonged and pronounced draw from the aquifer will lead to saltwater intrusion from the south.

“Good water is cheap until you don’t have it. Why take the risk?” said Freddie DeCourt, New Iberia mayor pro-tem and one of more than 100 people who attended the hearing.

DeCourt said the city passed a resolution in opposition to the project.

Richard Hyde, .AGL senior director of governmental relations, addressed the committee, reiterating his company’s position that the 3 million-gallon draw is less than what was originally proposed and represents the maximum amount the company would use on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to take more than that,” Hyde said.

He said the withdrawal represents a small fraction of all daily withdrawals from the aquifer.

The company’s proposal is being reviewed by the state Department of Natural Resources, Hyde said.

The hearing follows a similar public meeting before the committee in Baton Rouge in May. Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, a new member of the committee, asked Hyde if AGL would challenge DNR’s decision if the agency denied the permit based on data it received from concerned citizens.

Hyde said his company would not challenge it if the data citizens presented was based on “sound facts.”

John Lovelace, a reports specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey, one of five presenters at the hearing, said there are some 3,000 wells in the region that are each capable of pumping 2 to 3 million gallons of water per day.

He said the city of Lafayette alone pumps more than 20 million gallons of water each day.

“Are we running out of water? We’re pumping it pretty hard, but the aquifer’s pretty prolific and it recharges itself,” he said.

Fred Hoyt, a former state senator who dealt with water issues while in office, countered during his presentation that a single drop of water can take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to travel from the area’s primary recharge area near Ville Platte to Lake Peigneur.

“We don’t want to wake up and turn the faucet on and find that we don’t have water,” Hoyt said.

Errol “Romo” Romero was the first member of the public to speak at the hearing, and asked, “Why would we trade our fresh, clean water for corporate profits?”