admin Thursday, February 8, 2024 Comments Off on A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM


The Biden administration recently gave Louisiana regulators new and unusual power to attract and approve carbon capture projects.

Louisiana is accustomed to creating hubs for new forms of energy and technology related to energy in the state, and especially in our neck of the woods. We can assume the same effort will go on with carbon capture. 

Louisiana is now one of very few states that are able to issue permits for wells that store carbon dioxide. These wells are a critical component of carbon capture and removal. In 47 states, the Environmental Protection Agency handles permitting. 

Proponents of the new Louisiana permitting change claim it will speed up the approval process for new carbon capture projects.

Some environmental groups opposed the move on the grounds that a state with a reputation for being dominated by oil, gas and petrochemical plants will not provide proper oversight of carbon capture processes intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But most of the traditional oil and gas industry is actively exploring and investing in alternative energy forms on the assumption that they will be the standard, and not the exception, a couple of decades from now.

Another concern of environmentalists was that in Louisiana, carbon capture wells would disproportionately be located near poor, majority-Black or other minority neighbors. But the EPA says that it has placed language in the Louisiana agreement that should prevent such placement of the wells. The agency also says it will use this language as a model for agreements with particular states as they are prepared in the future. The language is designed to get communities near proposed wells involved in the permitting process.

How Wells Work

First, carbon in emissions from industrial plants is captured. The captured carbon is then transported to a well. There, the carbon will be injected into  the well at a level deep underground.

The Biden administration has increased tax breaks for developers of carbon capture projects in general. It has also provided large grants for these projects. 

The administration has also funded an ambitious Louisiana plan to remove carbon directly from the air. 

Many, many people are trying to get on this funding train. Project developers are flooding the EPA with applications for new wells. 

Still, carbon capture technology is new, and at this time only 30 carbon capture projects are operating in the U.S. Louisiana is one of the most active states in the field.

Louisiana officials say the new decision about permitting will help make the state a major carbon capture player. “We have seen unprecedented interest in carbon [capture] projects over the past couple of years, with companies reaching out to our office to express interest in what the regulatory framework will be,” Louisiana Dept. of Natural Resources Commissioner of Conservation Monique Edwards said.

Is Carbon Capture       A Fake-out?

Some scientists argue that carbon capture is just a way of delaying or preventing the rapid phase-out of oil, gas and coal. (Another issue that would be worth considering is just how realistic expectations of a rapid phase-out of oil, gas and coal are.)

Opponents of the new Louisiana plan point to statements by Louisiana’s U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R), who advocated for the EPA plan. As Cassidy noted that the production of oil and gas is essential to the state’s economy, he also stated, “many of these energy producers want to invest in carbon capture and sequestration so they can keep operating in Louisiana long into the future.”

Cassidy’s statement may not have meant that he thought the sole reason for carbon capture was to keep the petrochem industry in Louisiana more or less the way it is. He may just have a realistic sense of the energy developments that are likely to come about in the not too distant future. 

In response to the new arrangement, the organization Earthjustice said the state is “notorious for weak monitoring and enforcement.” Even if that is the case, carbon capture is a sort of project that is entirely new to Louisiana (and to every other state, for that matter). It may not be possible to predict with certainty that Louisiana will continue old habits with work that is qualitatively new.

Pollution Effects: A Great Unknown

Clara Potter, an attorney with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic who represented the Sierra Club in opposing the EPA’s move, said carbon capture projects in Louisiana have served “as an excuse for permitting new and expanded polluting operations.”

Now we move into the area of potential pollution effects of carbon capture. We should keep in mind that all of this is theoretical. Why? No carbon capture project has been in operation long enough to show that the hypothesized pollution risks are real. Research may one day demonstrate that some of the risks have real potential for harm. But it is too early in the game for that research to have been conducted.

One widespread fear is that some carbon might leak up through a well’s seal and go into the air. Such a phenomenon could be compared to Archer Daniels Midlands’ theft of a component in corn syrup from a Japanese competitor. While the stolen microbes were tucked away in ADM’s microbe silos, the Japanese microbes were so small that some could go right through the silos’ seals. The Japanese only had to rub a handkerchief over a stair rail in the silo room to find plenty of evidence that their microbes had been stolen. You can see a depiction of this bizarre case in the 2009 Matt Damon movie The Informant.

Even if particles of stored carbon didn’t go straight through the seals, they could, in theory, escape into the air if the seals were improperly manufactured or closed. Another thing to consider is that things don’t always go as planned. If, for some reason, proper maintenance of the seals was lacking in the future, seals could deteriorate to the point that carbon could escape.

Another concern is that carbon might somehow gradually move through a wall of a well, make its way to the surrounding dirt, and – again, in theory – gradually rise to the surface and go into the air.

Could Prejudice Linger?

The Sierra Club argued that such hypothetical air pollution “will be born most heavily by Black and Brown communities who already face disproportionate environmental risks.” Apparently the club was not buying the language in the Louisiana agreement that was designed to keep this from happening.

Operating on complaints from area environmental groups, in 2022, the EPA investigated the state’s regulation of air emissions. The agency initially said there was evidence of racial discrimination in the state’s operations. However, the investigation was ended before a final report was released.

EPA administrator Michael Regan said the agency was obliged to grant Louisiana permission to permit carbon capture because the state meets the Safe Drinking Water Act’s requirements – the requirements that must be met before a state can do its own permitting. The litmus test is intended to show that the state requirements are at least as rigorous as those of the feds.

Referring to that special language meant to keep new developments out of minority neighborhoods, Regan said, “we’re building in monitoring and oversight measures to ensure that the state — regardless of who is in the governor’s office — complies.”

North Dakota and Wyoming are the other two states with permitting authority. North Dakota, the first state to be granted the authority, issued its fourth well permit in May, and an ethanol producer is currently capturing and storing carbon there.

Texas, Arizona and West Virginia also want to run their own permitting programs. The avalanche is picking up speed pretty quickly.

The Biggest Project Of All

In a different part of Louisiana Livingston and Ascension Parishes —the largest carbon capture project in the world is under development. If it is completed, most of this project will exist underwater; in particular, under Lake Maurepas.

Livingston Parish President-elect Randy Delatte says he is endeavoring to give those who live near the lake the same level of consideration that is given to special interest groups that have an interest in carbon capture.

The Louisiana Illuminator reported that Delatte testified before the Louisiana Senate’s Task Force on the Local Impacts of Carbon Capture and Sequestration. After hearing from concerned residents at a meeting a little over a month ago, the panel reserved time to hear from state and local officials and researchers with expertise in carbon capture.

While all carbon capture projects fall under the purview of the task force, the Lake Maurepas project has drawn the most public pushback. The Air Products company wants to drill wells to inject 5 million tons of carbon dioxide below the lakebed every year. The effort is part of a $4.5 billion project headquartered in adjacent Ascension Parish that would pipe the greenhouse gas under the lake rather than release it into the atmosphere.

Monique Edwards, state commissioner of conservation, told the task force that her office has the ability and expertise to regulate carbon injection wells. “The bottom line is that the men and women of the Office of Conservation live here, play here and are raising their families here,” Edwards said. “We are all committed to making sure that the state we call home is protected and flourishes.”

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