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After carbon capture backlash, Louisiana lawmakers aim to tighten regulations

The Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge
Kezia Setyawan
The Louisiana State House in Baton Rouge

Louisiana is on the cusp of a carbon capture bonanza. For many, that is cause for concern.

Major projects, like a $4.5 billion hydrogen plant and carbon capture complex planned in Ascension Parish, have been met with enormous pushback. In that case, local residents have come out en masse to oppose Air Products’ planned facility, concerned about the risks that its carbon pipelines, wells and underground storage could pose to Lake Maurepas — an area central to the region’s culture and recreation.

In turn, lawmakers from across the Florida Parishes — especially those representing Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena — have filed nine bills to respond to their residents’ concerns. It’s the most legislation filed on issues related to carbon capture and storage since the state first legalized it by passing the Louisiana Geologic Sequestration of Carbon Dioxide Act in 2009, to little fanfare.

The state’s first-ever Climate Action Plan, published last year, included carbon capture as a key component of its roadmap for slashing Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions — but carbon capture was also one of the most divisive pieces of the plan.

Now, with the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act having created tax incentives to help spur the development of carbon capture and storage projects, many oil, gas and chemical companies are eyeing Louisiana as a potential location to site new projects.

Concerns about current carbon capture projects have ranged from lack of community input to no revenue sharing for local governments and fears about ecological damage. Residents and environmental advocates have also questioned whether taxpayers will foot the bill for ensuring that carbon stored underground remains there in perpetuity.

The nine bills, all filed by Republican lawmakers, directly address those and other regulatory gaps. All but one are still waiting to be taken up in committee, with the bills due to be heard the first week of May. Here’s a look at what lawmakers will be considering in the upcoming session:

House Bill 571

Introduced by House Speaker Rep. Clay Shexnayder, House Bill 571 proposes an extensive amendment to the 2009 Geologic Sequestration of Carbon Dioxide Act. Shexnayder’s district includes much of Livingston Parish, and during the April 20 House Natural Resources and Environment Committee meeting, he said his bill aims to address community complaints while ultimately allowing carbon capture projects to proceed.

If passed, the bill would require the state to notify the parish government whenever a company applies for a carbon dioxide well permit — or a Title VI permit — in their area.

The bill also lays out revenue sharing from the storage of carbon beneath state-owned land or water bottoms. It would require that the state send 30% to the Mineral and Energy Operation Fund, 30% to the parish where the site is located and the rest into the state’s general fund. If the state land or waters touched more than one parish, the revenue would be split based on the proportion of the area in each jurisdiction.

Public hearings would also be required in each parish that could be affected by a carbon capture and storage project, and companies would have to conduct an environmental analysis for each Class VI permit.

Companies would also be required to monitor and maintain their wells for 50 years after they stop pumping carbon dioxide into the ground, as well as meet specific conditions to be released from some of their liability. After that point, issues with the wells or storage would be paid for out of the state’s Carbon Dioxide Geologic Storage Trust Fund.

The bill maintains that companies would only have to pay $5 million into the trust fund for each storage facility. But it adds that there would be a cap of $10 million no matter how many storage facilities a company operates.

Neither the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association nor environmental groups like the Sierra Club oppose this bill.

The bill has been heard and passed unanimously out of the House committee. It is now scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Monday.

House Bill 454

Introduced by Rep. Sherman Mack, who also serves Livingston Parish, House Bill 454 would require a local election before any carbon sequestration project moves forward in Louisiana.

A company or person interested in sequestering — or storing — carbon would have to submit an application to the parish government, which would then trigger a referendum asking voters to decide if the project should be allowed or not. The cost for holding the election would also fall on the requester.

The project could move forward only with the voters’ approval. If a project was shot down, the bill requires the parish government to wait at least two years before holding another referendum.

This bill has been heavily opposed by the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which says such legislation would make it difficult for the state to capitalize on the industry’s interest in carbon capture.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have championed the bill for the same reason, noting that carbon capture and storage presents many uncertainties and is yet to be successful on a commercial scale..

HB454 is scheduled for discussion on Tuesday, though that could change.

House Bill 312

Unlike House Bill 571, House Bill 312 would require companies to retain full liability for any damage from carbon sequestration facilities and remove all liability for the state should something go awry with pipelines or underground storage. This bill was introduced by Rep. Robby Carter, who serves East Feliciana, St. Helena, and Tangipahoa parishes.

Currently, companies would only be liable for up to $500,000 per incident if it involves wrongful death or serious physical injury. Carter’s bill would remove any cap.

It’s scheduled for discussion on Tuesday.

Other Bills Under Consideration

  • HB10: Would prevent carbon capture and storage operators from using eminent domain to acquire property for drilling Class VI wells. (Introduced by Rep. Robby Carter)
  • HB453:Would require all Louisiana carbon capture projects to store their carbon in geologic formations beneath the Gulf of Mexico, effectively banning underground storage on state lands. (Introduced by Rep. Sherman Mack)
  • HB35: Would completely ban carbon sequestration projects in St. Helena Parish. (Introduced by Rep. Robby Carter)
  • HB308: Would require an environmental impact statement — which involves extensive analysis of how a project would affect the environment — before the drilling of any Class VI injection well or construction of carbon pipelines beneath Lake Maurepas or the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. (Introduced by Rep. William Wheat)
  • HB267: Would place a 10-year moratorium on sequestering carbon or building carbon pipelines on or beneath Lake Maurepas and the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. (Introduced by Rep. William Wheat)
  • HB120: Would prohibit any permanent structure from “protruding” above the surface of Lake Maurepas or Lake Pontchartrain. (Introduced by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello)
Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.

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