Apr 24, 2014 7:39 PM by Kari Beal

Bills regulating salt cavern permits passes committee

A big win for the group Save Lake Peigneur, which is trying to stop companies from storing natural gas in salt caverns. Bills that would increase regulation on salt dome permits passed today in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

These bills mostly stem from safety and health concerns residents have about Lake Peigneur and could affect how future permits are issued for salt domes in Vermilion and Iberia Parish.

Atlantic Gas Light, known as AGL Resources, stores natural gas in salt domes under the lake and hopes to expand these storage areas. The company also uses the Chicot Aquifer to support the process of storing the natural gas.

Residents say studies done on the lake are outdated and they worry about history repeating itself. In 1980, a Texaco oil rig accidentally drilled into a salt dome beneath the lake, resulting in boats, land, and trees being pulled into a massive sink hole.

"The man-made disaster that happened in the 80s and the collapse there, we are saying that this salt dome was structurally damaged and we have fears that, if you keep expanding, creating these salt caverns, there could be another disaster very similar to Bayou Corne," Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, said.

Of the three bills that passed committee, two were proposed by Senator Fred Mills and focus on Vermilion and Iberia Parishes. SB 584 prohibits further permits for storing natural gas in those parishes and SB 585 asks for a public hearing before a permit is issued.

SB 209 is proposed by Senator Rick Ward, whose district includes the Bayou Corne sinkhole, and it would require companies to reimburse property owners within 180 days for any damages done as a result of a disaster.

Many supporters of the bills showed up at the committee meeting today.

"We're not asking to stop extracting, just for a local review and re-permitting," said retired Lt. General Russel L. Honoré, leader of the Green Army, which supports passage of the bills.

During the committee meeting representatives from AGL Resources said they have done MIT tests to make sure these salt caverns are safe, but supporters of the bills suggest that there could be problems with these tests.

"The mechanical and integrity tests only look at the cavern itself, not the salt dome," said Save Lake Peigneur President Nara Crowley, who indicated that she worries that the salt domes are causing bubbling in the lake. The area underneath Lake Peigneur is a massive salt dome and salt caverns are dredged out inside the dome.

The bills now move on to the full Senate for debate.


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