Amid a flurry of planned liquefied natural gas export facilities in southwest Louisiana, environmentalists and residents are pushing back against one LNG project in Cameron Parish.
They have taken aim at the air permit for Commonwealth LNG, a $4 billion facility that will be built at the west side of the Calcasieu Ship Channel where the channel meets the Gulf of Mexico.
The terminal will ship about 8.4 million metric tons of LNG annually. Construction is slated to begin in 2023 with commercial operations starting in 2026.
Residents and environmentalists packed a March 17 public hearing in Cameron Parish about the air permit, which Commonwealth applied for in April 2021.
Critics of the project say it will have far-reaching impacts on the area’s ecosystem and will spew pollutants well above the recommended federal levels for maintaining air quality.
Commonwealth LNG’s initial estimate for carbon dioxide emissions is more than 3.5 million tons annually, according to its permit application with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The federal threshold for triggering more stringent reviews — known as a prevention of significant deterioration, or PSD, review — is 75,000 tons annually.
As a result, Commonwealth LNG will have to use “best available control technology” to limit emissions. The permit application says Commonwealth LNG will use low carbon fuels, carbon capture and “thermally efficient equipment” to manage the carbon dioxide emissions.
John Allaire, a retired environmental engineer who owns property near the Commonwealth site, said the facility could increase carbon dioxide emissions in Cameron Parish by up to 49%
“I am concerned that this permit is just going through way too quick,” he said at the DEQ hearing.
Erik Johnson, director of conservation science for Louisiana’s chapter of the National Audubon Society, said the greenhouse gas emissions would require about 4 million acres of trees to offset.
“This release is in direct conflict and contrast to the recommendations of the Louisiana climate action plan,” Johnson said.
No one from Commonwealth LNG attended the hearing. When asked why, company officials told The Advocate the hearing called for citizens “to comment on information already submitted to the DEQ by Commonwealth LNG.”
“We do not see this a direct debate format, but rather a process where the DEQ is then allowed to consider all perspectives when subsequently deliberating on the application,” Lyle Hanna, Commonwealth LNG’s director of communications, said in a statement.
Hanna said Commonwealth is “committed to meeting all environmental standards set forth by the DEQ and all other local, state and regulatory authorities.”
Critics also took aim at the notion that increased LNG exports will go to Europe to wean the continent off Russian natural gas.
Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said most U.S. LNG is exported to Asian countries without free trade agreements, including China.
“Are we just going to hand over the places that we love, all so some people in Texas and Saudi Arabia and China can make money?” she said at the DEQ hearing.
Hanna said the U.S. has enough natural gas supplies at home.
“Increased exports of this resource (as recently called for by the President) brings additional economic benefits to the country and SWLA region and net benefits to global climate concerns,” he said.
The project isn’t without supporters. Eric Cormier, vice president of strategic development and policy for the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said his organization is behind Commonwealth’s efforts.
“Our working relationship with Commonwealth LNG has proven that the company lives up to its internal operating philosophy, which is with a partner-first mentality driven by ethics and transparency,” he said.
Stephanie Rodrigue, a former Cameron Parish schools superintendent, called natural gas the “cleanest burning fossil fuel” and said the project will add jobs that will keep residents in the parish.
“That’s very, very important to all of our residents throughout the parish.”
DEQ announced Monday that the public comment period for the air permit, which originally was set to end March 21, has been extended to April 12.