Council opposes cavern expansion

The Iberia Parish Council voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose any further expansion of the salt dome gas storage caverns under Lake Peigneur.

Parish council Chairman Bernard Broussard said concern has grown about plans to expand salt cavern storage capacity at the lake ever since a sinkhole formed in Ascension Parish that authorities have linked to a salt cavern storage facility.

If a sinkhole were to form under Lake Peigneur, Broussard said, it could be much larger and affect hundreds more people, possibly shutting down shipping lanes, highways and other avenues of transportation.

Broussard asked Patrick Courreges, policy analyst for the state Department of Natural Resources, what the state was prepared to do prevent such a sinkhole from forming.

Courreges said his department is learning from the Ascension Parish sinkhole incident, and that DNR officials are working to find ways to monitor the salt caverns to prevent such disasters from recurring.

AGL Resources, a Texas-based company, has been trying to expand its natural gas storage in caverns under Lake Peigneur from two caverns to four since 2005.

Courreges said the company would have to obtain three permits to achieve its goal. Two of the permits would come from DNR’s Office of Conservation and have to do with the brine process that takes fresh water and uses it to dissolve the salt that will be extracted to form the cavern, he said.

Courreges said the applications for those two permits have not moved past the review stage.

DNR’s Coastal Management Office would issue the third permit for dredging the lake in order to move equipment to the cavern location and construct pipelines, Courreges said.

Coastal Management Office Administrator Karl Morgan said the dredging and work permit has reached the advertisement stage with a permit notice advertised earlier this month in The Advocate. He added that the company has sent property owners living adjacent to the work areas notices, and that the next step will be a public comment period. He said no dates have been set yet for the comment period.

Nora Crowley, who lives in the Lake Peigneur area, said she has been in regular contact with DNR officials and was not aware of the advertisement. She added that only one of the more than 10 area residents who showed up at Wednesday’s meeting had received a notice in the mail.

Morgan said the resident list was compiled by AGL resources and was mailed Monday. He added that DNR also lists the information on its website.

Vermilion Parish resident Dinah Boudreaux said many residents who live in the area are elderly and do not use the Internet. She asked the department to continue to use mail to communicate with its residents.