Lake Maurepas

A company looking to store industrial carbon dioxide emissions under Lake Maurepas is now suing the Livingston Parish Council for attempting to slow the process, according to court records.

Air Products, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania, filed its “verified complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief” in federal court in Baton Rouge on Tuesday. Air Products is in the midst of building a multi-billion-dollar “blue hydrogen” manufacturing plant that would sequester 95 percent of its carbon emissions.

The suit was filed less than a week after the Livingston Parish Council approved a year-long moratorium on the construction and drilling of Class V injection wells — a necessary data-collecting step for companies such as Air Products looking to sequester carbon dioxide emissions underground.

In the lawsuit, Air Products asks a judge to declare the council’s recent moratorium “invalid and unenforceable,” saying it contradicts federal law, state law, and even a recently-approved parish ordinance. The company said it is permitted for the practice — which in this case is designed to determine if Lake Maurepas is suitable for carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration — and asks a judge to block the council’s attempt to halt their work.

“In light of the acknowledged invalidity of L.P. Ordinance No. 22-49, and its conflict with the numerous state and federal statutes, regulations, and permitting authorities, Air Products is left with no choice but to bring this lawsuit,” the lawsuit states.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said his office has received the lawsuit and that the parish attorney is “reviewing the suit and will certainly advise and defend the Parish.”

The lawsuit is the latest action in the parish’s ongoing fight against carbon capture and storage, a process that involves taking CO2 emissions from industrial sites and permanently storing them deep underground.

The practice — which advocates say will help with climate change but opponents say is unproven and potentially dangerous — has sparked outrage from locals and officials in Livingston Parish, with two sites being proposed on the north and south ends of the parish.

For its hub, Air Products is planning to store CO2 under more than a dozen injection wells in Lake Maurepas, one of three spots the company chose to store CO2 from its upcoming $4.5 billion energy complex in Ascension Parish.

Last year, Air Products reached a lease agreement with the State Mineral and Energy Board to put CO2 underneath state-owned land in Livingston, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and Tangipahoa parishes. Of the 122,000 acres in the agreement, 57,000 acres fall across Lake Maurepas.

Air Products, which plans to have the plant operational by 2026, aims to permanently sequester 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

With the Air Products hub and another by Oxy on the horizon, residents and local officials have vehemently voiced their disapproval over the last several weeks, resulting in packed, hours-long council meetings. They’ve expressed fears that the projects might jeopardize their communities and waterways, with most comments being against the Lake Maurepas hub.

“This lake has been sacred for all these years, all my life,” said resident Matthew Barnham in the Oct. 13 meeting. “Leave it alone.”

In September, the Livingston Parish Council approved a year-long moratorium on Class VI wells, which are used to inject carbon dioxide into deep rock formations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These are the wells that contain CO2 emissions.

Later that month, the council unanimously approved a resolution asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to halt issuing permits for “any activities associated with Class V and VI wells.”

The most recent moratorium — and the focus of the lawsuit — was on Class V wells, which are defined as those used to inject non-hazardous fluids either into or above an underground source of drinking water. Companies seeking to store CO2 underground use Class V wells to gather information on the area’s geologic makeup to determine if it is suitable for sequestration.

The moratorium, passed by a 5-2 vote, focuses on wells “specific to geologic testing of rock formation, monitoring, drilling, or injecting of CO2 for long term storage.” It also included the parish’s waterways and the “detonation of charges for seismic testing, drilling or injecting of liquids.”

In its lawsuit, Air Products pointed to the council’s own disagreement on the matter. During the meeting, one councilman referenced a letter from the parish attorney suggesting it would be “illegal” for the parish to impose a ruling for Lake Maurepas, which is under the state’s jurisdiction.

But other councilmen said that was a chance they were “willing to take… to not only protect the lake, but Livingston Parish.”

“This ordinance, if allowed to take effect, will directly contravene the authority of the Louisiana Legislature, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (“LDWF”), the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others,” Air Products said in its lawsuit.

“It will also introduce uncertainty into a tightly structured and coordinated state and federal regulatory scheme.

In its lawsuit, Air Products said it was set to start seismic surveying operations on Lake Maurepas, a six-phase process that would run from October through the spring, before the latest moratorium. The company said it received permits from state entities for the seismic activity, through its contractor Exoduas.

The seismic surveying process — which involves using sound waves to create 3D images of underground geological structures — has drawn the ire of commercial and recreational fishermen, who claim it will damage their beloved lake. The sound waves are produced using “small charges” that are placed 60 feet beneath the water bottom charges.

But Air Products has stressed that, once surveying is complete, “no trace” of the work will be left behind. The company said charges will be used “one at a time” and that the planned size of the charges is “only a quarter of the size allowed by regulation.”

In addition to the seismic survey, Air Products has begun work to install two Class V stratigraphic test wells to “further assess the geology beneath Lake Maurepas.”

“The moratorium, if left in place, will improperly restrict Air Products’ lawfully-permitted activities and improperly impair Air Products’ lawful contractual rights and obligations,” Air Products said in the lawsuit.

In its lawsuit, Air Products said the Class V moratorium is “preempted and invalid” under federal and Louisiana law and claimed it is entitled to injunctive relief, including a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction “as it concerns Class V wells.”

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