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Louisianans take stand against gas export terminal on vanishing coast

Along Louisiana’s disappearing coast, concerned citizens are opposing a permit for yet another liquefied natural gas export terminal they say would spew pollution and exacerbate coastal erosion.

CAMERON, La. (CN) — Dozens of opponents of a proposed air permit for another natural gas export terminal along what has become a rapidly eroding and hurricane-battered edge of the Pelican State spoke against the terminal Thursday night during a public hearing before the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Representatives from Commonwealth LNG, the Houston-based company behind the proposal, did not appear at the hearing, held in a police building in Cameron, Louisiana.

Retired oil and gas workers, teachers, concerned parents and lifelong Louisiana residents objected to the facility on grounds that it would make the region uninhabitable from pollution and worsening storms.

“Aside from the climate-inducing catastrophe that the [Department of Environmental Quality] is being asked to contribute to and permit, this location is terrible,” said James Hiatt, southwest Louisiana coordinator at Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit organization concerned with the toll of environmental pollution on communities.

“The cheniers and beaches along Cameron Parish provide habitat to billions of migratory birds and other animals. Much of it has been devastated by coastal erosion and wetland loss caused by rising sea levels and ever-increasingly intense storms,” Hiatt said. “DEQ must not willingly permit a facility to be placed directly in the path of these storms and on a coast which is washing away.” 

The Louisiana coast has been melting into the ocean through erosion caused at least in part by the oil and gas industry for the past several decades. The present shoreline where the proposed facility would sit is eroding at a rate of 5 to 30 feet each year, according to the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The eroding coast threatens the nearby coastal highway, which is currently the only remaining barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and a 40,000-acre marsh. “Any breach of the roadway will increase salinity and introduce rapid tidal exchange that could convert the marsh into open water,” the coast authority says.

“Commonwealth, along with the suite of other fracked gas projects proposed in the area, would devastate the area’s already vulnerable wetlands and environment, harm public health, and contribute to climate change," Naomi Yoder, a staff scientist with Healthy Gulf, said at the hearing. "LNG is 90% methane, a toxic and potent greenhouse gas that is 85% stronger than carbon dioxide at warming our climate."

In a region that has been devastated by hurricanes twice in the past 14 months – Hurricane Laura in August 2020 and Hurricane Ida in 2021, each named the strongest hurricane to hit the area yet – and with science showing that climate change is causing storms to be more severe and frequent, Yoder said “we cannot afford” more gas export terminals such as Commonwealth’s.

“It’s time to move away from super polluting dirty fuels like LNG and towards a renewable energy future, a future where Gulf communities can thrive,” they said.

A handful of proponents of the project spoke at the meeting, but they were far outnumbered by those opposed to the facility. The primary concern they voiced was a need for oil and gas amid soaring prices.

David Schull, who described himself as a local property owner with a 36-year history of working in the oil and gas industry, said the export facility is a necessity because of an urgency to produce more gas now, in light of the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

“The administration is reaching out to ask us to do what we can,” Schull said, adding that “it won’t be long before we can’t come to meetings like this one because we can’t afford the gas.”

But environmentalists and other opponents of the proposed terminal refuted claims that the export terminal will help lower gas prices.

Anne Rolfes, founder and director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, called such claims “industry untruths”.

“The idea about energy security is an industry lie,” Rolfes said during the hearing.

“They’re called export terminals” for a reason, she said, underscoring that 70% of the liquid natural gas being exported is going to Asia, not Europe.

Construction on the terminal is slated to begin soon pending the final permits, including the air permit at issue in Thursday’s hearing.

The export terminal will be one of 10 liquified fracked gas – also called liquified natural gas, or LNG – export terminals that either currently exist or have been proposed for southwest Louisiana.

Environmental groups, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf and Sierra Club oppose the terminals because of the emission of millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year – more than 3.5 million tons, according to permit requests.

The environmental groups say that pollution levels in rural Cameron Parish – the least populated parish in the state – are quickly gaining on Baton Rouge levels.

They also claim completion of the facility would damage the coastal and flood protection offered by the wetlands it is slated to be built on, and would harm threatened and endangered species such as eastern black rail birds and Rice's whales.

"I have so many friends who have no interest in living in this state because it’s so polluted, and we let companies like Commonwealth from Houston come here and make money. And we pay the price,” resident Jack Reno Sweeney said during the hearing.

Hiatt warned people not to be "fooled by the false promise of ‘good-paying’ jobs that are suicidal for our coast” and southwest Louisiana.

“These few LNG gas export jobs that are being promised leave out important facts: having our infinite natural resources tied to a global market has contributed to the increasing cost of everything,” he said.

He added, “Don’t be fooled by those claiming that this export gas is for Ukraine and our European allies: Those served by Russian gas pipelines have no LNG import facilities to take any of this gas, and any new terminals on either side, importing or exporting, will take years to construct."

Commonwealth LNG did not immediately reply to an email request for comment. 

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