Louisiana could experience an increase in its output of greenhouse gases by 30 percent if all the petrochemical projects proposed and approved in 2015 are built, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project.
Almost half of the 44 petrochemical facility permits proposed for construction or expansion in the United States last year were in Louisiana, the “Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical Industry” report says.
Part of that concentration in Louisiana is due to the cheap natural gas, but part also could be that Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality has a much more transparent permit review system that puts all of the information online, said Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project executive director and lead author of the report. Schaeffer formerly managed the civil enforcement program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until 2002.
In comparison, Texas doesn’t make permit information available online, so it’s difficult to determine what activity the state has experienced and information may be missing from the report, he said.
Nine of the 10 largest proposed or permitted petrochemical facilities in terms of greenhouse gas emissions included in the report are located in Louisiana, including chemical, liquefied natural gas terminals and fertilizer producers. This increase in activity could mean 68 million more tons per year of greenhouse gas releases from Louisiana alone. Greenhouse gases are a concern because of their contribution to climate change.
It’s a sector of the greenhouse gas producers that’s not received much attention compared with vehicle and coal-fired power plant sources, Schaeffer said. In addition, the report encourages states and companies to look for ways to reduce their global greenhouse gas impact through more vigorous energy efficiency and heat retention programs, resulting in less of a need to burn carbon-containing fuel.
All of the facilities have greenhouse gas limits placed into their permit, he said, but that’s based on best available technology.
There is resistance to plans that would inject the produced greenhouse gases into the ground. However, after that option is crossed off the list, companies say there’s nothing else they can do, he said.
“It’s been kind of an all-or-nothing approach,” Schaeffer said. “All is too expensive, so what we end up with is nothing.”
There are options that include reducing the amount of heat loss — many of the processes require extremely high heat. However, Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist in DEQ’s air permit division, said energy efficiency and other emission-reducing methods already are part of the permit discussions.
“There are things the plants can do to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions,” Johnston said. “Anything that’s viable and that will function to reduce, all of those technologies are on the table.”
Johnston said the amount of carbon dioxide included in the permit is what would be released if the plant ran at full capacity year-round. The actual amount released is always less, he said.
Schaeffer said the report isn’t advocating eliminating the release of greenhouse gases or for underground storage but instead making sure the processes are as efficient as possible to reduce releases.
“I don’t think the bulge in emissions from this sector is on the radar,” he said. “They need to be part of the greenhouse gas strategy.”
Unlike other industries where the answer is to install a scrubber or other control measures to keep emissions down, with greenhouse gases there is no easy solution. That means industries and states need to get more creative in finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas releases.
“The challenge is we have to think a little different,” Schaeffer said. “You can squeeze some fat out of the permit. There’s room.”
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