World’s leading hydrogen company sues Louisiana parish over carbon capture project
The world’s leading hydrogen supplier sued Livingston Parish last week over local attempts to block the company from storing carbon from its proposed $4.5 billion plant beneath Lake Maurepas.
Despite the threat of expensive litigation, some parish leaders say they want to fight the multibillion-dollar company in court to protect the swamp.
Air Products Blue Energy, LLC – a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania-headquartered Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. – argued that state and federal law preempts the parish council’s recently passed moratorium on the drilling of wells needed to test the area’s ability to store carbon long-term.
Those laws render the local moratorium “invalid and unenforceable,” according to the federal lawsuit filed on Oct. 18 in the Middle District Court in Baton Rouge. The company also argued if the local ordinance took effect, it would “directly contravene” the authority of several state and federal agencies.
“It will also introduce uncertainty into a tightly structured and coordinated state and federal regulatory scheme,” wrote attorney Michael Drew of Jones Walker LLP, the law firm representing Air Products.
Passed in a 5-2 vote on Oct. 13, the local ordinance aims to halt the construction for Class V injection wells for one year within Livingston Parish and its waterways. Companies use Class V wells to inject non-hazardous fluids into the ground. Sometimes, they’re used to store water, other times to test new technology. In this case, Air Products would drill two wells that would be used to test the strength of underground rock formations alongside seismic testing, which the ordinance also temporarily bans.
During the Oct. 13 meeting, council members discussed a letter sent by the parish’s legal counsel, Chris Moody. The council acknowledged that Moody warned that the land under Lake Maurepas, which is a state wildlife management area, was “obviously outside our jurisdiction.” Those who voted in favor said it was a chance they were willing to take.
In a community meeting in Tangipahoa Parish last week, Air Products staff said those types of tests were needed to determine whether their planned “blue hydrogen” plant was feasible in Ascension Parish. Announced just over a year ago, the plant could offer a cleaner energy source for Louisiana’s industrial plants, which account for about two-thirds of the state’s carbon footprint.
The plant would produce hydrogen from natural gas, but rather than let the leftover carbon dioxide escape, the company says it will capture 95% of it. The captured carbon dioxide would be supercooled near liquid form, then piped through Ascension and Livingston Parish before being stored nearly a mile underground beneath Lake Maurepas.
But residents in southeast Louisiana have come out in droves to oppose the project, concerned about the safety of the pipeline, the risks of carbon dioxide leaks and the disruption of the lake’s fragile ecosystem. The swamps around Lake Maurepas have been in decline for years due to factors like saltwater intrusion with some studies predicting that most trees will be lost by the middle of the century.
Over the past few months, hundreds of residents who live near Lake Maurepas have also expressed anger over being left out of the planning process, with many hearing about it for the first time from the governor’s announcement in October 2021.
On Friday, Livingston Parish Councilmember Randy Delatte described the atmosphere surrounding the project and its potential environmental impact on the region as a “pandemic of fear.”
“If you go to church, if you’re stopping to buy gas, or at the store, anything, everybody says, ‘Man, what can we do to stop it? Let us know,’” Delatte said.
Neither local governments nor residents have had a chance to weigh in, the councilman said. Some council members hoped the moratorium would give them more time to discuss the project and put legislation in place to send more benefits to the parish if the plant moves forward.
The parish administration and council have received the lawsuit. Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks told the local newspaper that the parish attorney is “reviewing the suit and will certainly advise and defend the Parish.”
Delatte said the ordinance has yet to go into effect and remains unsigned, leaving the parish president with the option to veto it to avoid further litigation. But Delatte, who’s district includes Lake Maurepas and the area where carbon will be stored, wants the parish to fight it.
“I would like to see our legal team in the parish attack this more strongly and not just be reactive,” he said, calling on the parish leadership to go even further and file an injunction on the company’s work while Air Products’ suit goes through the courts.
The councilman hoped to see more interest from environmental groups as well, noting that the rural parish lacks the resources for a lengthy legal battle.
“I will represent the people on the local government area, but we don't have the expertise or the money. We need environmental lawyers … someone that's used to fighting this big business,” he said.
The intense backlash against the industrial carbon capture projects comes after several environmental and community groups claimed victories over projects planned along the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The state is also underincreased scrutiny by federal agencies over air permitting decisions.
The future of the ordinance is expected to be discussed during the next Livingston Parish Council meeting on Thursday.