A $4.5 Billion Dollar Project in Ascension Parish, Carbon Capture, and… Zombies?

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards looks on as Air Products CEO Seifi Ghasemi delivers remarks about the company’s newly announced plan to build, own and operate a blue hydrogen clean energy complex in Louisiana.

Pennsylvania-based petrochemical company Air Products is planning a $4.5 billion dollar blue hydrogen “Clean Energy Complex” in Ascension parish. This would be Air Products’ largest investment ever in the U.S. and their 19th facility in Louisiana. 

Although the project is being hailed as a major clean energy investment in Louisiana, the definition of “clean” seems up to interpretation. 

For starters, blue hydrogen is a beautiful name for methane extracted from natural gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent at causing global warming than CO2 and natural gas is, of course, a fossil fuel. Where things get really clean though, is that Air Products plans to capture the leftover CO2 from the blue hydrogen production process and inject it into underground caverns across Louisiana through a method called Carbon Capture and Sequestration. 

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS or CCUS) is a process that aims to “capture” CO2 from industrial facilities and processes. Originally, it was touted as the solution to the dirty energy crisis. However, with the dropping prices of renewables, and the exorbitant cost of CCS, which has yet to be proven to work at scale, energy producers have shied away from CCS as a viable solution, and the baton has instead been taken up by plastics manufacturers. 

Their goal is to capture 90% or more of the CO2 from industrial processes and transport that highly pressurized CO2 through pipelines to locations where it can be “safely” injected into the ground. 

According to David Schlissel, the Resource and Planning Analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, “ A 90% capture rate is the Holy Grail for carbon capture, but the lower the capture rate, the more CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere…  Proponents will be talking about 90-95% capture, but we have no evidence that that’s been achieved anywhere.”

In terms of pipeline infrastructure, that’s nothing new for Louisiana. However, since the CO2 is pressurized, existing pipelines would need to be retrofitted, necessitating additional disturbance to our wetlands, which are natural defenses against hurricanes. Of course, pipelines tend to leak here but that’s nothing new… or is it? Well, Zombies aren’t in the title for nothing. 

Last year, just next door in Satartia, Mississippi, a CO2 pipeline leak shut off cars (cars need oxygen to run), and put residents in a zombie-like state, causing them to “wander around in the dark” and “foam at the mouth.” Longterm, residents experienced “ mental fogginess, lung dysfunction, chronic fatigue and stomach disorders. They said they have trouble sleeping, afraid it could happen again.” Another concern noted by The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is that “In areas closest to pipelines, released CO2 could quickly drop temperatures to -80°F, coating the surrounding area with super-cold dry ice.” 

With that horrifying aside, we move onto the last issue, storage. Although injecting CO2 back into the ground sounds all well and good in theory… is it actually? In short, no. Improper containment can cause earthquakes, groundwater contamination, and fractures in caprock that can release the CO2– making the whole, expensive project a useless endeavor. 

If improper containment were to occur, which is likely for a new technology that hasn’t been proven to work at scale, who foots the bill?   

According to Jane Patton of CIEL, “In Louisiana, liability for all CO2 injection sites fully transfers back to the state (i.e. the costs and risks will be borne and paid for by the public) within only *10 years* according to the existing law.” 

Even if taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill (and the medical bills) for improper containment, they can look forward to footing the bill on the lavish property tax cuts, 80% for 10 years, for the Air Products facility. 

During the Louisiana Climate Initiatives Task Force Special Meeting on Industrial Decarbonization Colette Pichon Battle of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy said it best: “This feels like industry positioning itself once again to have the upper hand no matter the cost to our people or our planet. It feels like fiction.”

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