What to Know as Louisiana Takes Permitting Reins for Carbon Storage

NEW ORLEANS (Verite) — Next month, state regulators in Louisiana will take over responsibilities for carbon storage permitting from the Environmental Protection Agency. State regulators say Louisiana is well-positioned for a carbon capture and storage boom because of its unique geology and the maze of already-existing oil and gas pipelines that make developing the necessary infrastructure easier.

With 22 carbon storage proposals soon to fall under Louisiana’s purview, local environmental advocates say they’re concerned about the safety and regulation of these projects, given the relatively new practices involved and the proposed placement of many of these projects in Cancer Alley.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources says there are environmental justice safeguards in place throughout the state’s permitting process to protect communities, mostly made up of people of color and those below the poverty line, that most often bear the brunt of pollution and its consequences.

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As Louisiana takes over, here’s a rundown of what carbon storage is, the state’s timeline for reviewing these projects and where to give public input.

What is carbon storage? What are its risks and benefits?

Following the passage of President Joe Biden’s ambitious Inflation Reduction Act, meant in part to bring the country to net zero emissions by 2050 to help fight climate change, increased federal incentives for carbon capture and storage are fuelling a boom in projects.

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While carbon capture involves collecting excess carbon dioxide during industrial production to prevent it from entering the atmosphere, carbon storage refers to the process of liquifying carbon dioxide and injecting it deep underground. This injection process requires a permit and will be overseen by LDNR.

Louisiana is particularly primed for this kind of carbon storage because of its more pliable rock formations, industry interest and pre-existing pipeline infrastructure, said Patrick Courreges, communications director for Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Courreges said that Louisiana is currently in a carbon capture and storage boom. Far more carbon storage permit applications are coming from here than from other states under the same EPA regional jurisdiction. EPA’s Region 6, which covers Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and several tribal nations, has approximately 31 applications for underground carbon injection as of early January. Of those, 22 are for projects in Louisiana, according to the EPA, with the greatest concentrations in Iberville and Assumption Parishes.

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Carbon storage sites are also known as Class VI wells under the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program, which LDNR will oversee for the state. There are currently no active Class VI sites in Louisiana, and only a handful across the country.

Proponents of carbon storage argue that it is the clearest path to lowering carbon emissions in the short term.

But opponents say that the health risks of carbon storage would fall on environmental justice communities already under the burden of pollution from the petrochemical industry. Critics often point to a 2020 pipeline rupture in Satartia, Mississippi, where the emitted carbon dioxide left 45 residents unconscious and unable to breathe.

“If you want to decarbonize in the relatively near term this is the way to do that. But you don’t want to use that as a basis for continuing to burn fossil fuels longer term,” said Eric Larson, senior research engineer at Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment. “It’s just a way of bringing us to the point where these industries can transition into a different way of doing things, which is going to be a slower process.”

However, local environmental leaders and community members are worried about the potential dangers and environmental impacts of carbon capture and storage, especially with projects proposed in parishes with significant Black populations that have historically been overburdened with polluting facilities.

Shamyra Lavigne is an environmental organizer with RISE St. James, a grassroots group fighting pollution from the petrochemical industry in Cancer Alley, expressed concern over the long-term impacts of carbon storage.

“Let’s start with the gated, wealthy communities,” Lavigne said. “Let’s put it under there first because if something happens to them, they can afford health care in emergencies.”

Following the EPA’s announcement, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice issued a statement expressing concern over the impact on local communities.

“This unproven and dangerous option is one of the biggest threats to communities of color being harmed by the polluting industries that exacerbate our climate crisis and by the regulatory agencies that are supposed to be protecting them,” said Beverley Wright, the center’s founder in a statement, noting that environmental justice movement has consistently opposed carbon capture and storage.

Placing carbon dioxide pipelines and storage projects in more populated areas wouldn’t be feasible, Courreges said, noting that there would never be a carbon storage project in New Orleans. But carbon storage projects could be located in areas south of the city and in the River Parishes, where there are fewer people, he said.

How is carbon storage regulated?

To make sure projects are safe going forward, LDNR says that reviewing carbon storage permit applications involves a complicated assessment of the pressure added underground from injected carbon to assess whether there could be leaks into water sources or into the air.

Regulators also have to assess how multiple proposed projects in the same area might interact with each other. LDNR will require facilities to have their own monitoring in place for carbon dioxide leaks. Additional measures such as carbon dioxide leak alarm systems might also be added if necessary, Courreges said. Regulators will also consider other factors, such as the possibility of pipe corrosion.

“There are some things very specific to carbon dioxide,” Courreges said. “It has a very unique and unfortunate relationship with steel. You have to make sure that your pipe is handling this stuff.”

LDNR does not yet have a number for how many miles of new pipeline may be developed for carbon storage and transportation projects, but noted that some areas with pre-existing land rights for pipelines may be easier to develop on.

What are the environmental justice safeguards?

When the EPA announced the transfer of the carbon storage permitting program to the LDNR, it offered assurances that both agencies would be held to “robust environmental justice commitments,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement earlier this month.

While LDNR is still making adjustments to its process, Courreges said, these safeguards include providing extended comment periods for proposed projects in environmental justice areas and hiring consultants to help engage local communities in the process. LDNR says it will be using the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool to determine when proposed projects could affect vulnerable communities. LDNR could then offer those communities a 30-to 60-day extension to submit public comments on a case-by-case basis.

Information on how to submit public comments will be posted to LDNR’s website.

LDNR will also post notices of comment periods in local papers of record, and notify local parish councils. Updates on underground carbon injection projects under review across the country, as well as all current draft permits, can be found on EPA’s Class VI tracker.

As LDNR prepares to take the reins, the timeline on the 22 projects under review is unclear. But new applications may be reviewed by the agency for upwards of 18 months before they are available for public comment, Courreges said.

By Lue Palmer, Verite 

This article first appeared on Verite News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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