Panel backs salt-dome restriction

A Louisiana House committee approved legislation Wednesday that would keep industry from creating additional natural gas storage at salt domes that have had man-made structural failures.

State Sen. Fred Mills told the state Senate Natural Resources Committee that he filed Senate Bill 200 to stop companies from expanding storage in a cavern beneath Iberia Parish’s Lake Peigneur.

He did agree, however, to change his legislation to allow expansion in salt domes where structural failures were caused by Mother Nature instead of man.

The legislation sought to limit new permits for caverns and hydrocarbon storage facilities underneath state lakes when there is a structural failure.

“This simple bill is intended to protect our water resources,” said Mills, R-St. Martinville.

The oil and gas industry objected to the proposal, arguing that some structural failures happened naturally millions of years ago when the salt deposits formed. The industry creates caverns in the salt domes to store natural gas.

Mills agreed to only target natural failures.

“At Lake Peigneur, it was man-made,” he said.

The committee voted 4-2 in favor of advancing the legislation.

A drilling rig pushed through the top of a salt mine at the Iberia Parish lake in 1980, opening a hole that drained the entire water body.

AGL Resources currently is battling to scour out two new salt caverns under Lake Peigneur for gas storage. Lake residents are opposed to the expansion.

In Assumption Parish, residents of the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities are under evacuation orders after a swampland sinkhole emerged in early August.

Texas Brine mines caverns into salt domes located at depths of thousands of feet. The brine mixture extracted is piped to petrochemical companies. Scientists believe one of the Houston-based company’s caverns was mined too close to a dome’s outer face, triggering a sidewall collapse that set off tremors, created a sinkhole and released gas and crude oil.

The sinkhole now spans 13 acres.

The House is scheduled to debate bills filed in response to the Bayou Corne situation Thursday.

“For the residents of Bayou Corne, I feel very bad for you. But this bill doesn’t do anything for you,” lobbyist Robert Baumann said during discussion of Mills’ proposal Wednesday.

Baumann lobbies for Hood and Associates, which represents companies in the petroleum industry. He said the salt deposits formed during the Jurassic Period. He said some of the structural failures also formed millions of years ago.

Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said storage caverns are a vital part of the oil and gas industry. He said companies are venting off natural gas because they have no place to store it. At the same time, he said, $60 billion is expected to be invested over the next seven years in industry projects along the Gulf Coast.

Nara Crowley, president of Save Lake Peigneur, said the legislation seeks to help residents who should be getting assistance from industry.

Crowley told legislators that there have been 86 episodes of unusual bubbling and foaming at the Iberia Parish salt dome.

She said residents support industry because it employs many of them.

“We need to be protected, and they should be protecting us. We shouldn’t be fighting industry,” Crowley said.

Mills agreed to an amendment that would only limit permits if man-made structural failures appear.

Voting FOR a limit on natural gas storage (4): State Sens. Rick Ward III, D-Maringouin, Brett Allain, R-Jeanerette, J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, and Blade Morrish, R-Jennings.

Voting AGAINST SB200 (2): State Sens. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, and Norby Chabert, R-Houma.