PRESS RELEASE: With Wildfires Burning LNG Sites, Inadequate Emergency Response, Southwest Louisianans Fear Duel Disasters: Fire and No Fish
Unanimous Approval of Koch Methanol Expansion Despite Federal Lawsuit
(Cameron Parish, LA)
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- AERIAL FOOTAGE BEFORE AND AFTER FIRES OF COMMONWEALTH LNG (COURTESY OF JAMES HIATT OF FOR A BETTER BAYOU)| PHOTOS OF FIRE AT COMMONWEALTH LNG SITE
Residents in Southwest Louisiana spoke at a press conference on Wednesday about the convergence of disasters impacting their community, all of which are made worse and compounded by the gas export terminal buildout. Fishermen are reporting that tanker activity is disrupting their fishing. Their catches this summer are so low that they are facing going out of business. At the same time, summer wildfires in Southwest Louisiana burned the proposed sites of two gas export terminals: Commonwealth LNG and Venture Global’s CP2. Local residents are sounding the alarm about both disasters.
Southwest Louisiana fishermen fear that the gas export terminal buildout is decimating the local seafood industry. Commercial fishermen are reporting unusually low yields and a crisis in catch levels along the coast of Cameron Parish. Fishermen planned to attend the press conference, but needed to spend the day fishing to account for such low yields.
“[The fishermen are] so affected by the constant dredging of the Calcasieu River ship channel,” said Lori Cooke, Southwest Louisiana Coordinator with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “The ship channel is dredged to accommodate these massive tankers that are transporting tons of LNG to foreign ports…they’re destroying the historical fishing area all the way up the Calcasieu River, all the way up to Lake Charles…The fishing boats and traps and fishing nets are totally obstructed by these tankers. It’s really to the point that the fishing industry is almost on the verge of collapse. It really is an emergency situation.”
The port of Cameron once produced the most seafood in America. However, worsening storms, and a spike in imported seafood has already made it difficult for this generation of local fishermen and shrimpers to continue working. Gas export terminals now threaten to become the final nail in the coffin for a trade that was passed down for generations, sustained the local economy, and has been a cultural backbone for all of Louisiana.
One of the ways gas export terminals are impacting the local seafood industry is by choking the Calcasieu River ship channel with massive tankers, keeping fishermen from accessing their fishing grounds and docks. According to Cooke, “Fishermen were told at a recent public meeting with the CPRA (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority)…to expect an excess of 1500 of these tankers a year, or at least 2-4 tankers per day.”
To protect their community and their way of life, residents, fishermen and shrimpers of Cameron Parish have been mobilizing to halt the gas export terminal onslaught, including organizing a flotilla of shrimp boats outside of the LNG Summit of the Americas in Lake Charles last year. In March, residents, fishermen, and spiritual leaders also gathered to consecrate the land on which Commonwealth LNG hopes to build their gas export terminal. They honored the protection the land provides from storms, the land’s abundant fishing grounds that sustain the local seafood industry, and the many birds and wildlife who rely on the land for food and shelter.
Fires and subsequent explosions
Residents fear what would happen if these fires raged through an operational gas export terminal, potentially causing the terminal to explode.
“Any time you mix with petroleum hydrocarbons whether it’s methane, or gasoline or diesel fuel, we all know what happens there,” said John Allaire, a retired engineer with the oil and gas industry who lives adjacent to the proposed site of Commonwealth LNG, “These facilities have a retaining wall around it, but as I mentioned there was 30-40 foot flames…on a high wind day like today you get flaming ash coming off the ground from the wildfires and it can go over their containment walls into their equipment…If you get one of these flaming pieces of ash, which I’ve seen thousands of them over the last several years down here during wildfires, you have the potential to start an ignition source when you have those methane leaks…it can develop into a major disaster.”
According to reports submitted by the gas export companies, as well as a compliance order from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, these gas export terminals are prone to accidents and leaks. Cameras have even captured high levels of methane leaking from Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass export terminal. Burning ash blown from a nearby wildfire could ignite any flammable gasses leaking from the gas export terminal, such as methane or carbon monoxide. In 2022, Venture Global released an unpermitted amount of carbon monoxide from its Calcasieu Pass gas export terminal for 143 days.
Gas export terminals are required to file an emergency response plan. However, Commonwealth LNG has shared few details. Commonwealth claims that because the emergency response plan includes security plans then it must be kept confidential. Residents argue that the company can keep that information confidential while providing some details.
“They don’t give us any detail. But, we feel like a community has a right to know about what it’s in their emergency response plan,” said Allaire, “Now they parry that by adding the security, terrorist stuff in with the emergency response plan so then they say well the whole thing is confidential…they can have their security plan and that can be completely confidential…but the emergency response plan ought to be available to the public to review.”
While Commonwealth LNG is still going through a permitting process and has yet to begin construction, even gas export terminals currently operating provide few if any resources to the surrounding community in the case of an emergency. Allaire recently met with Venture Global, the operator of the Calcasieu Pass gas export terminal, to discuss what he should do if he fears there’s an emergency developing at the terminal.
“We went to a meeting in March with the Venture Global people across the river,” said Allaire, “I talked to their Vice President of Development, Fory Musser and I asked, ‘I’m hearing alarms going off at your facility, I see the flaring. Is there someone at the plant I can call. Do I need to shelter-in-place? Do I need to move? Do I need to get out?’ and his response was, ‘well, if you feel like you’re in danger call 911.’ So no response. And he told me no, we don’t have anyone you can call here. We have an online, you can submit a grievance there or just call 911. They really don’t want us to know what’s going on and I think we have a right to know.”
In addition to the 3 currently operational gas export terminals, and the 3 currently under construction, the oil and gas industry is trying to build or expand 10 more gas export terminals in Louisiana, with a larger onslaught along the Gulf Coast.
About Louisiana Bucket Brigade
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to support communities impacted by the petrochemical industry and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.