Amid expansion plans, Venture Global LNG plant faces compliance order after 100+ violations
After more than 2,000 permit deviations, state officials have ordered Louisiana’s newest natural gas export facility to come into compliance and could impose steep fines on the company that operates it.
The facility is operated by gas export giant Venture Global, which launched operations at Calcasieu Pass LNG on the coast of Cameron Parish just over a year-and-a-half ago.
In that time, the facility reported more than 138 incidents in which it polluted more than it was allowed. Some unauthorized releases lasted more than a week, according to a compliance order issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in late June.
The company is liable for up to $32,500 of fines for each day in violation of state regulations.
A report earlier this year by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group, found that the company had violated its permit on 286 of the first 343 days it was in operation — a full 83% of its first year. The report was compiled by former BP environmental engineer John Allaire, who lives about a mile from Calcasieu Pass, just across the Calcasieu Ship Channel.
He has taken hundreds of photos of the plant burning off its releases from his home.
“Forever since they started operating in January of 2022, I see flaring night and day,” Allaire said.
In mid-March, rather than fix the problems, Venture Global asked state environmental regulators to modify its permits and allow the company to increase the amount of nearly every type of air pollution it releases. The company has blamedhigher-than-expected emissions on faulty equipment, claiming in state filings that the pollution was caused by factors that were out of their control.
After the plant emitted up to eight times more sulfur dioxide per hour than it was permitted for three months last year, for example, Venture Global said their pipeline operators had added a chemical to the line without the company’s consent, resulting in higher sulfur dioxide emissions.
The Department of Environmental Quality said the company reported the unauthorized release of sulfur dioxide 56 days after it first learned of the problem, in clear violation of state mandates that require disclosure within one week of an incident.
Lifetime exposure to sulfur dioxide is known to cause respiratory problems and reduce lung function, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Almost immediately after operations began, the company also reported that Calcasieu Pass LNG had a preventable release of 180,000 pounds of natural gas — which contains methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. LDEQ said the incident could partly be attributed to poor training of the facility’s employees.
Despite the recurring problems with the facility, Venture Global is pursuing a 500-acre expansion to Calcasieu Pass LNG right next to its current site. Known as CP2, the proposed expansion is still in the permitting phase.
Allaire argued that the violations should raise questions about whether the company should be allowed to build a new facility after it has refused to shut down operations to fix the problems at its current plant.
As it looks to take advantage of a boom in the global gas market, the company has broken ground on another liquefied natural gas plant in Plaquemines Parish and proposed to build a third facility at a site nearby.
“If you go to Venture Global's webpage, they claim we're advancing environmental progress around the world. I'm down in the sacrifice zone in Louisiana on the Gulf Coast, but I mean, everything they're promising, they haven't been able to deliver on,” he said.
Environmental groups and residents opposing the buildout of new liquefied natural gas export plants in Louisiana have been alarmed by the destruction of wetlands for construction and the risk of building such facilities in a hurricane-prone area. The multibillion-dollar facilities also secure long-term contracts to receive financing, locking in decades of new greenhouse gas emissions that will contribute to the planet's worsening climate crisis. Currently, the state allows Calcasieu Pass LNG to emit nearly 4 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.
Local and state officials have supported the buildout, calling it an boon to the local economy.
In response to the compliance order, lawyers representing Venture Global told the state on July 7 that the company plans to request a hearing to discuss the violations and will likely offer the state a settlement within the next five months.
Though state law requests that companies submit a plan for fixing the cause of their violations within 10 days of receiving a compliance order, Venture Global said it will need until Sept. 4 to submit its corrective plan.
The company asked regulators not to schedule a hearing before it finishes the written report.
Venture Global did not respond to multiple requests for comment.