Carbon capture portrayed as a linchpin to Louisiana’s success, failure

More than 100 people testified this week on whether the state should have the responsibility for carbon capture wells.

Carbon capture portrayed as a linchpin to Louisiana’s success, failure
A carbon capture facility. (Canva image)

Published in the Louisiana Illuminator

Allowing the state of Louisiana to regulate the injection of carbon dioxide underground would continue a pattern of systemic harm to residents already burdened by pollution. 

Not allowing the state to regulate those wells could decimate the state’s economy and cause it to lose its primary economic engine.

Those were the fundamental existential arguments offered by the more than 100 people who testified this week in Baton Rouge on whether the state should have the responsibility for those wells. 

Now, it’s up to the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether, and under what conditions, the state will regulate the wells, called Class VI injection wells. The EPA has already determined the state’s application to regulate the wells meets all requirements for approval. The hearings this week were to gain public input on that decision.

Initially scheduled for one day, the hearings ended up being scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to allow the large number of people interested in the issue to comment. The EPA will also take comment through July 3, though several testifying at the hearings asked the agency to extend the comment period.

DNR’s pursuit of primacy status for Class VI injection wells is directly related to the state’s push toward carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. 

CCS is being touted by state and federal officials as the go-to solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as Louisiana and the rest of the country push toward net-zero emissions goals in order to halt climate change. 

Carbon capture is the process by which carbon dioxide from high-heat industrial processes is captured and stored underground instead of  being released into the atmosphere. But there is ongoing debate over whether the technology can work on the grand scale planned for Louisiana where more than 20 CCS projects have been proposed.

Tommy Faucheux, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, on Wednesday, said CCS technology has been “safely” operating in the state for more than 50 years. 

“We’re on the verge of a new golden age of energy production and all that comes with it — new jobs, more state revenues and a stronger economy,” Faucheux said. “To achieve this it will take utilizing the latest technologies, like carbon capture and storage.”

Supporters of giving the state authority over the wells said they worry opposition to carbon capture projects will mean job loss and economic disinvestment. 

Carol Miller, a semi-retired Lake Charles resident, said without the fossil fuel industry her community wouldn’t have been able to survive after the two back-to-back hurricanes they endured in 2020. 

“To have any type of quality of life during this time could not have occurred without use of fossil fuels. We ran generators from sun up ‘til sun down,” Miller said. “Keeping our fossil fuel industry thriving will benefit the overall welfare of the state.” 

Those who showed up in opposition framed their arguments around the state’s lack of resources and historic failures when it comes to regulating the oil and gas industry. 

“Transferring primacy from a federal agency to Louisiana automatically means less oversight, less rigor and fewer resources to ensure permits are enforced,” Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said during her prepared remarks at Wednesday’s hearing.

Burke called this year’s Legislative session an illustrative peak of the unwillingness of state leaders to allocate the money needed for state agencies to provide the oversight needed for CCS projects. 

Jade Woods, with the Center for International Environmental Law, said if Louisiana gains the power to regulate Class VI injection wells, it will open a floodgate of carbon capture projects. 

A recent report from the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice tallied more than 20 planned underground carbon capture projects throughout Louisiana.  

“This,” Woods said,  “is about the overall track record of an agency that has failed to properly regulate the infrastructure they currently have.”

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Terry is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native and has lived and worked there for the last decade. Before joining Floodlight, he was the City Hall reporter for The Advocate.

Terry L. Jones/Floodlight