Louisiana Debates Control of Carbon Capture Wells in Public Hearing
Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) faced scrutiny during the first day of a three-day public hearing as supporters and opponents of the state's bid to gain control of carbon capture injection wells voiced their opinions. The hearing, held at the LaSalle Building in downtown Baton Rouge, featured critics questioning the DNR's ability to oversee the wells effectively and safely, while industry advocates argued that the shift in control to Louisiana would bring economic and environmental advantages to the state.
The focal point of the debate is the DNR's request for "primacy," which entails direct regulatory control over Class VI wells used for injecting carbon dioxide into deep underground rock formations. These wells play a crucial role in carbon capture, a method gaining popularity in efforts to combat climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the permitting process for the majority of Class VI wells, with only Wyoming and North Dakota having direct regulation. In 2021, Louisiana applied for primacy to expedite the review of carbon capture wells. The EPA opened the request for public comments until July 3, and the agency has indicated that the state's formal application meets the technical requirements for approval. The DNR anticipates a ruling on the primacy application by the end of the year.
Governor John Bel Edwards and industry supporters consider carbon capture a driver of economic growth and a means to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. However, critics have raised concerns about the technology's effectiveness and safety. Opposition to a proposed well in Livingston Parish led to several bills aimed at limiting carbon capture, although most of those bills failed due to industry resistance.
Jockeying between the two sides began even before the hearing commenced. Industry supporters set up a tent near the LaSalle Building to promote the benefits of carbon capture, while environmental justice groups held a media session at a nearby coffee shop.
Over 17,800 public comments have been submitted online, and the agenda for the first session listed over 100 potential speakers. However, only around 30 individuals stepped up to the microphone on Wednesday. Additional sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, expressed concerns about carbon capture being a ploy by the industry to perpetuate the use of polluting energy sources. She raised apprehensions about groundwater contamination and accidental leaks during carbon dioxide transportation. Wright criticized the DNR's request for not adequately considering the disproportionate impact on minority, indigenous, and impoverished communities.
Tommy Faucheux, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, argued that primacy would enable the state to implement the latest carbon capture technologies quickly and safely. He pointed out that carbon capture has been safely practiced in the United States for over 50 years and asserted that Louisiana, with its geologic expertise, should have the authority to decide its energy future.
Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, perceived the regulatory transfer as a threat to safety and the future, primarily due to concerns about the speed at which the state might approve new wells. She noted that the EPA has issued permits for only two Class VI wells nationwide, while North Dakota has already permitted five.
DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges acknowledged past oversight issues but stated that the agency has made progress in recent years, particularly under the leadership of Governor Edwards. Additionally, the DNR plans to hire seven new staff members dedicated to the regulation of Class VI wells.
Marc Ehrhardt, executive director of the Grow Louisiana Coalition, an energy industry advocacy organization, contended that primacy would position Louisiana as a leader in energy innovation. He highlighted the significant reduction in air emissions by the state's industrial sector over the past three decades while maintaining increased production. Ehrhardt emphasized the potential for deliberate, positive change in carbon capture if Louisiana can shape its own future regarding Class VI wells.
Darryl Malek-Wiley, a senior field representative for the Sierra Club, called for a restart of the EPA's review of the DNR's primacy application due to House Bill 571, legislation signed by Governor Edwards that outlines the Class VI well process in Louisiana.
Mark Miller, a board member of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and president of Merlin Oil and Gas Inc., stated that granting primacy would alleviate the EPA's administrative burden without completely removing oversight. He argued that primacy and carbon capture make sense for Louisiana.
While industry lobbyists showed support for Louisiana's primacy effort, some residents expressed concerns about the potential impact. Steven Braud, owner of 4B Plastics in Baton Rouge, believed that carbon capture could boost crude oil production, benefiting his business and the state. However, Justin Solet, a member of the United Houma Nation tribe, warned that carbon capture projects in south Louisiana might cause damage to coastal areas and wetlands, leading to a "forced mass exodus" of residents. Solet emphasized that the Gulf should not be treated as a sacrifice zone for industry purposes.
As the public hearing continues, the fate of Louisiana's bid to regulate carbon capture injection wells remains uncertain, with stakeholders passionately presenting their perspectives on the matter.