A massive natural gas project could help revitalize a southwestern Louisiana community that’s been repeatedly pummeled by hurricanes — if the facility can withstand climate change.
The $10 billion CP2 liquefied natural gas terminal would be one of the largest projects of its kind if approved by the Biden administration. Proposed by Virginia-based Venture Global LNG, the project would bring thousands of workers to Cameron Parish, whose economy has struggled after being hit by four hurricanes in 18 years.
While CP2 could help reduce emissions in coal-dependent foreign countries, it would also become one of the biggest carbon polluters in the Bayou State, raising questions about the role of LNG in a warming world.
Located next to an existing LNG plant and 2 miles away from another terminal under development, CP2 could also force federal agencies to consider whether it’s acceptable for a low-income community that’s highly vulnerable to climate change to now host several industrial gas projects.
“It would be a game-changer in terms of the air impacts and health impacts for the community, and it would lock us in to years of more unfettered LNG expansion,” Gillian Giannetti, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said of the proposed project.
CP2 would increase daily U.S. LNG shipments by about 20 percent relative to the current rate of exports from all existing projects. The U.S. is already the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas.
The terminal would be built next to the Gulf and the town of Cameron in Cameron Parish, a rural community that has lost nearly half its population since the first recent hurricane in 2005.
One of the project’s biggest supporters is Scott Trahan, a police juror on the local government council known as the Cameron Parish Police Jury. Trahan works at Venture Global’s existing LNG project in town, known as Calcasieu Pass, and he’s one of the few members of his extended family whose longtime home is still standing.
CP2’s job opportunities could lure people back to the parish, said Trahan, who grew up there and married his high school sweetheart. More residents could help sustain Cameron’s small businesses and replenish local schools, where enrollment has declined, he said.
“That’s going to be pretty much our saving grace, the LNG business,” Trahan said.
Environmental advocates, however, say the project is contrary to the Biden administration’s promises on environmental justice, which is the notion that everyone should be fairly protected from pollution. The White House has directed agencies to consider ways to prevent and reduce health impacts in disadvantaged communities, particularly when multiple energy projects are involved.
Critics also balk at the project’s potential annual greenhouse gas emissions, as disclosed in an environmental impact statement this year from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They would be equivalent to those released each year by 2.1 average-sized coal-fired power plants, per EPA estimates.
The estimate is based on energy consumption at the terminal itself and doesn’t account for greenhouse gases emitted when the fuel is shipped and eventually burned overseas, nor for the release of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — during natural gas drilling and extraction. Between 2011 and 2022, the only facility in Louisiana that emitted more greenhouse gases annually than CP2’s expected direct emissions was the Donaldsonville Complex, a chemical plant southwest of Baton Rouge, according to EPA data.
Venture Global did not make someone available for an interview for this article. But company spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said in a written statement that CP2 will have positive environmental impacts, as natural gas can replace the use of more-polluting coal in some countries. Restricting LNG will therefore “prevent the reduction of global emissions,” Hynes said.
"CP2 LNG has invested in highly energy efficient turbines with best-in-class emission control standards," Hynes said.
Spanning 546 acres of land, the CP2 terminal would be used to process, supercool and store natural gas in a liquid state at -260 degrees Fahrenheit, so the fuel could eventually be shipped. The project also includes a planned 85-mile pipeline originating in eastern Texas and a large compressor station to push natural gas through the pipe system. Venture Global has also proposed a plan to capture 5.6 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be directly released at CP2.
The company is currently awaiting approval from FERC to build the terminal and pipeline. It also needs authorization from the Department of Energy before it can export gas to certain countries.
Its proposal comes as Cameron Parish is at the epicenter of Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis, said Torbjörn Törnqvist, a professor in earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University. That’s due not only to sea-level rise and climate change, but also because the area is extremely low-lying; is naturally sinking; and is not close to a source of sediments, like a river, that could help the coastline hang on, Törnqvist said.
The region is “a very, very bad location” for LNG projects, Törnqvist said.
“If someone gave me a map of the United States and asked me, ‘Can you point out the most vulnerable coastline?’ Well, this would be pretty much it,” he said.
Venture Global is building a 31-foot wall designed to protect the terminal from a 500-year storm surge, according to Hynes. The design of the wall “accounts for forecasts of both coastal subsidence and sea level rise,” she added.
'It's where I want to be'
Support for LNG in Louisiana is strong in both political parties. When CP2 was proposed in 2021, it was through an announcement from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who said the facility would boost the state’s economy “without sacrificing our long-term carbon-reduction goals.”
Andrew Holleman, director of state and federal government affairs at the Picard Group, a lobbying firm, said the majority of Louisianans are “very receptive to new energy projects.”
“Overwhelmingly, the state is supportive of stuff like this, both from public opinion all the way up to the governor’s office,” said Holleman, who is based in the Bayou State and previously was a lobbyist for Cheniere Energy.
As of last year, 4,900 people lived in Cameron Parish. But once CP2 and other planned LNG projects are under construction, the number of construction jobs alone could exceed 7,000, said Trahan, who works at Venture Global’s existing Calcasieu Pass terminal.
The terminal would create at least 200 permanent, direct jobs, with average salaries of $120,000, according to the company. As of 2021, the average income for parish residents was $31,805, and 14 percent of residents lived in poverty.
Still, some who live near CP2’s proposed facilities have concerns about how such a large project could affect their way of life.
Steven Broussard, a personal injury attorney, lives in a rural area just north of Cameron Parish. CP2’s pipeline would cross his property, and the company’s 87,000-horsepower compressor station would be “across the street” from his house, he said.
Broussard said there is already another pipeline running on his land that doesn’t bother him, so he’s not concerned about more pipe. But he is worried about constant noise and light pollution from the compressor station.
“I’m an outdoor person. I moved out to the country to be out in the country,” he said. “I’ve asked [Venture Global] for a lot of info about ambient lighting, how much noise or decibels, something I could comprehend. But I really haven’t gotten any answers.”
The compressor station would be the largest in Louisiana in terms of horsepower and within the top 20 highest-powered compressor stations in the U.S., according to data from the Department of Homeland Security that was last updated in December. Horsepower refers to the power produced by a station’s engine. There were over 2,100 in-service compressor stations in the U.S. as of December, according to DHS’s database.
Venture Global did not provide a comment on Broussard's complaints. In its environmental impact statement, FERC said that noise levels at the CP2 compressor station would not be significant, but that the facility would emit pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, as is the case with other compressor stations.
Another concerned landowner is John Allaire, who owns property in Cameron Parish a little over a mile from Venture Global’s existing Calcasieu Pass terminal. CP2 will be adjacent to Calcasieu Pass, and Allaire’s property is also less than half a mile from the planned site of Commonwealth LNG, another project approved by FERC last November.
Although he also has a home in Texas, Allaire said he spends most of his time these days in Cameron Parish, drawn by the abundant wildlife and natural landscape.
"It's where I want to be," said Allaire, a retired engineer who previously worked for BP.
When Allaire bought his property in 1998, the area was mostly marshland, he said. Now, the lighting and concrete from Calcasieu Pass make it look like “the Las Vegas Strip.”
He fears the development of CP2 will make things worse.
“I can hear [Venture Global’s] alarms periodically going off, and I can see their flare stack when it’s blowing flames,” he said.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) has accused Calcasieu Pass of polluting more than is allowed under the terms of its state permit on dozens of occasions this year. Venture Global has said that it took corrective actions during those instances and has agreed to try to resolve the dispute with the state agency.
Hynes of Venture Global added that the company has engaged extensively with landowners and those living in the vicinity of its project, “constantly meeting people, listening and learning.”
“We seek not only to mitigate any potential negative impacts of our projects, but also to improve and change lives and communities,” she said.
Overall, FERC concluded in the review that CP2 would result in “some adverse environmental impacts,” but found the only significant ones would be on the visual landscape. Those visual impacts would disproportionately impact low-income communities, given the demographics of the area, according to the agency.
But some environmental scientists say state and federal agencies may be underestimating CP2's and other LNG projects' impacts on air quality.
Kimberly Terrell, a research scientist at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, described CP2’s expected NOx emissions as “huge” and potentially harmful for those living nearby. Exposure to the pollutant can increase one’s risk of developing asthma and respiratory infections, or make those conditions worse, she said.
Venture Global has estimated that NOx emissions from the project will initially be 460 tons per year, and eventually increase to 1,100 tons per year once the terminal is fully completed. Any facilities that emit more than 100 tons per year are considered a “major” source of pollution under the Clean Air Act.
While there are air pollution monitoring stations set up throughout Louisiana, the nearest one is over 25 miles away from the town of Cameron. LDEQ, which oversees air pollution in the state subject to EPA requirements, did not respond to questions about CP2’s emissions or placement of air quality monitors.
“I think the complete lack of monitoring in the area around this site is an important consideration,” Terrell said.
A 'blockbuster' decision
If history is any indication, FERC is likely to approve CP2’s project. The agency has signed off on virtually every gas project proposed in recent years, and some legal experts say FERC’s authority to reject an LNG facility is limited under current laws.
Even so, individual commissioners have expressed hesitations about the potential trade-offs of the current LNG build-out in the U.S..
Last November, for example, when the commission approved Commonwealth LNG, then-Commissioner Willie Phillips said he was “concerned with [FERC’s] approach to mitigating impacts on communities, especially those already enduring negative impacts from industrial development.”
Specifically, the concentration of proposed industrial projects in Cameron posed “a significant burden for any community to bear,” he said.
Yet Phillips, a Democrat who is now acting chair of the commission, ultimately voted to approve Commonwealth, as did all of the other commissioners at the time. He explained his decision by saying that FERC staff “did not identify any other disproportionately high and adverse health or environmental impacts to this environmental justice community.”
FERC does not comment on pending projects, nor does it speculate on when decisions will be issued.
For now, Giannetti of NRDC said she is closely tracking CP2 given its expected greenhouse gas emissions, its inclusion of a large pipeline and Venture Global’s carbon capture plan.
“So many things at play that lead me to believe that project is going to be a blockbuster on all of those issues,” she said of the expected FERC decision. “It’s definitely going to go to the courts.”
The other key decision for Venture Global will come from the Department of Energy, which considers applications to export gas to countries with which the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement. All told, the facility would be capable of sending up to 2.67 billion cubic feet per day of LNG to markets abroad.
While it’s unclear when the department will approve or deny the application, DOE must account for the fact that global demand for natural gas is rising, said Charlie Riedl, executive director of the LNG trade group known as the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. So far, Venture Global has announced 20-year sales agreements for nearly 50 percent of CP2’s expected capacity, indicating market demand for its product.
“What we’re seeing is the market is calling for more natural gas being exported from the United States, in emerging markets along with well-established markets," Riedl said.
Venture Global aims to complete CP2 by 2027. The project is designed to last a minimum of 30 years, FERC said in its environmental impact statement.
Yet Törnqvist, the environmental scientist at Tulane, said it’s difficult to imagine how the project could operate much past 2050.
Since 2010, the rate of sea-level rise in southwest Louisiana has been about three times faster than the global average, he said. At that rate, it’s plausible that Cameron Parish “is going to have to be given back to the Gulf of Mexico” 20 to 30 years from now, he said.
“Even if you can protect yourself from storm surges, the whole surrounding area is going to converge into open water eventually,” he said.