New Orleans, LA
October 11, 2013
By Wilma Subra
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Oil and Gas Wells
There are 4,000 drilling and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the platforms are off the coast of Louisiana. Thousands of producing wells are also located in the territorial seas off the coast of Louisiana, within three miles of the shore and under state jurisdiction.
Each platform serves a number of producing wells that produce crude oil, natural gas and condensate. The products are transported on shore through a maze of pipelines.
There are also more than 40,000 producing oil and gas wells on land in the state of Louisiana.
The oil and gas wells on shore and off shore leak, spill and discharge toxic chemicals, crude oil, natural gas and produced water on a regular and ongoing basis. These toxic chemicals have a severe impact on the environment of Louisiana including contamination of the air, soil, sediment, surface and groundwater resources, aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, and humans.
The Taylor well platform in the Gulf of Mexico, off the shores of Louisiana, was damaged by a hurricane in 2004. Since that time the well has continued to leak crude oil into the Gulf on a constant basis and generates a slick up to 20 miles in length. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network website has a continuing documentation of the leaking Taylor well, as well as other wells leaking in the Gulf and Louisiana coastal waters.
Orphan and Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells
Many thousands of Orphan and Abandoned oil and gas wells and facilities on shore and off shore are contaminating the environment in Louisiana. The number of known sites increases each year as more sites are discovered than can be cleaned up with available resources.
Seaports and Import Facilities
Louisiana has six seaports and import facilities for oil and gas and four natural gas hubs. The Henry Hub in Vermilion Parish imports 50% of the natural gas used in the United States from Gulf of Mexico production. The price of natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange is set at the Henry Hub.
Operable Petroleum Refineries
The Petroleum Refineries are concentrated in Baton Rouge, Sulphur, Westlake/Mossville, Convent, Norco, and Chalmette.
The crude oil refined by these refineries comes from conventional domestic production, foreign imports, shale oil and Canadian Tar Sands. Eight million barrels of crude oil are refined each day at Gulf of Mexico refineries. This is half of the refining capacity in the US.
Petrochemical Facilities convert hydrocarbon based raw materials into petrochemicals, manufacture organic chemicals, plastics and resins.
The major Petrochemical Facilities are located in Baton Rouge, Laplace, Norco, Geismar, Sulphur/Mossville, Plaquemine.
The petroleum refineries and petrochemical facilities release extremely large quantities of very toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. Accidental releases and upset conditions, as well as explosions and fires, are a frequent occurrence. Many of the facilities have extensive ground water pollution plumes.
Major Shale Plays
Shale plays are very deep formations that were not economically feasible to produce until tax incentives were provided and horizontal fracturing technologies were developed. The technology is far out distancing the ability of state governmental agencies to regulate shale drilling, fracturing and production. The development of the shale plays is considered unconventional development and is having extensive negative impacts on the environment and human health.
Haynesville-Bossier – North East Texas and North West Louisiana
Shreveport – gas – 2,400 wells drilled
Tuscaloosa – South Central Louisiana and Western Mississippi – oil and gas
The oil from coastal shales and from the Bakken shale play in North Dakota is transported to the petroleum refineries in Louisiana for refining. The Bakken shale is a sour crude with large quantities of hydrogen sulfide and is being used to replace Venezuelan crude by Louisiana refineries. The Bakken shale oil is transported by train to the St. James Terminal in Louisiana for distribution to refineries on the gulf coast.
The St. James terminal is connected to a loop off-loading facility which constantly unload train cars 24 hours per day. The St. James terminal was constructed in the 1970’s to distribute oil by pipeline to the strategic petroleum reserve sites in Louisiana.
A new train terminal is being proposed in Raceland for distribution of the Bakken shale oil to refineries in Louisiana.
Pipelines connect production sites, gas processing facilities, petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants, and industrial and consumer users throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The pipelines transport crude oil including Canadian Tar Sands, natural gas, and refined chemical products such as gasoline, benzene, jet fuel, etc. Along the pipeline corridors are located gas processing facilities, compressor stations, pigging stations, valving locations, metering stations, storage tanks and glycol dehydration stations. The heaviest concentrations of pipelines are on shore and offshore in Louisiana.
Existing pipelines serving the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in the North Eastern United States are being repurposed to transport the shale gas produced from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays to the expanding petrochemical facilities and LNG export facilities in Louisiana and Texas.
Pipelines and their associated units contribute extensively to environmental contamination as a result of leaks and spills, venting and failures.
Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)
Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is natural gas that is cooled and compressed to a liquid to make shipping in specially designed ships more economical. Until gas shale plays across the United States were developed, there was a shortage of domestic natural gas resources and a need to import natural gas for domestic consumption. The current operating natural gas import terminals are concentrated along the Gulf Cost in Louisiana and Texas. Now that there is an excess of natural gas being produced in the United States from the shale plays, the liquefied natural gas export market is driving the LNG facility development picture.
There are six proposed LNG export terminals in Louisiana.
Louisiana has the first export facility approved by DOE and FERC in May 2011, the Chenier facility in Cameron Parish. It will export 2.2 billion cu ft of LNG per day to non-free trade countries. It is in the pre-construction phase.
In May 2013, the proposed Freeport, Texas LNG Expansion facility on Quintana Island received approval by DOE. The Freeport facility is approved to export 1.4 billion cu ft of LNG per day.
On August 7, 2013, Lake Charles Exports facility was approved by DOE to export 2.0 billion cu ft of LNG per day.
The administration can allow 5.6 billion cu ft of LNG to be exported to non-free trade agreement countries. These three LNG export facilities are approved to export the entire 5.6 billion cu ft of LNG per day that the administration will allow.
The availability of large quantities of shale gas at cheap prices is driving the need for and development of more salt dome storage facilities to provide storage for the large quantities of produced natural gas, the extension of pipelines to connect to the export facilities and the new industrial facilities in the Lake Charles(Sasol) and Ascension parish (Shell) areas for gas to liquid processing facilities. The proposed gas to liquid facilities will consume very large quantities of the cheap natural gas from all of the shale gas plays in the United States including the Marcellus and Utica in the northeast, the Bakken in North Dakota, as well as the Barnett and Eagle Ford shales in Texas and the Haynesville and Tuscalousa shales in Louisiana.
Twenty percent of the 500 coal burning power plants in the United States are expected to shut down in the next few years. Coal producing companies have thus targeted export markets for their coal production.
Along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, there are five coal export terminals. Three of these export facilities have the capacity to export 25 million tons of coal per year. Two new coal export facilities are in the permitting phase.
These terminals receive coal by barge, rail and truck and export to foreign countries by ship. The operations cause extensive particle matter air contamination, surface water pollution and human health impacts to communities living in the area.
A large number of mid stream stevedoring operations transfer coal from barges to ships and wash out the coal barges and dump the residual coal into the waters of the Mississippi River.
Coal terminals in the New Orleans area are increasing their export quantities by exporting Powder River Basin, Colorado and Illinois Basin coal. These exports are destined for European markets.
Energy Sector Impacts
The toxic emissions, discharges, leaks, spills, and waste from the energy sector have had a very large impact on the environment in Louisiana as well as the quantity of green house gases released and contributing extensively to global warming impacts. In addition, the released toxic chemicals and waste have resulted in extensive contamination of the environment and have resulted in severe acute and chronic human health impacts. The human health impacts are experienced by communities living in the areas of the facilities and infrastructure and by the workers employed in the energy sector.
The additional facilities and infrastructure being proposed in Louisiana will add an even greater burden to the environment and degrade the quality of life which is so important to those living in our state.
The economic impacts of the energy sector are huge, but for the most part, not enjoyed by the impacted communities. The environmental and human health impacts of the energy sector are extensive, an extreme burden to the communities and additional degradation will occur with the new focus of energy development in Louisiana.