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A power plant that uses fossil fuels is depriving families in Louisiana of adequate water for basic hygiene needs.
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A power plant that uses fossil fuels is depriving families in Louisiana of adequate water for basic hygiene needs.

Katie Mazarac simply desired to bathe her daughter.

One evening in late summer, the woman and her 18-month-old child, who lived in a small fishing town in Louisiana, were faced with ongoing water problems. Beginning in June, saltwater from the ocean had been seeping into the Mississippi River, rendering the town’s water undrinkable. To bathe her daughter, Mazarac had even resorted to using a reusable tote bag and gallons of bottled water.

In August, Mazarac had become accustomed to having saltwater flow from her faucets. However, that evening when she tried to use the bathtub faucet, only a small trickle of water came out.

She explained that she had contacted her mother because she suspected there may have been a broken water line in her home.

Her mother informed her that it was not a damaged water line causing low water pressure in her house, but rather a widespread issue affecting all of Venice, Louisiana. She had not been aware of this because she had not checked her phone, but her mother told her that many people were currently experiencing the same problem.

According to Mazarac, this occurrence repeated itself at least five times prior to October. The abrupt shortage of water had a significant impact on the daily routines and operations of individuals and businesses in Plaquemines parish, a coastal town located at the delta of the Mississippi River. Community leaders advised residents to conserve water whenever feasible.

However, throughout this time, a neighboring oil and gas company was still extracting millions of gallons of water from the city’s water supply in order to build one of the biggest fossil fuel projects in the country.

According to public documents obtained by the Guardian, Venture Global, a producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), consumed a significant amount of water in Mazarac’s struggling district during certain months between May and October of 2023.

“We’re being told to conserve water,” resident Jordan Biggs said in September, “but Venture Global is getting to use all the water from our pumping stations to build cement for their big plant. And it’s just really disheartening.”

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Venture Global is poised to compete with Qatar as a top exporter of LNG and is currently constructing a record-breaking export terminal in Plaquemines parish. This project, which is receiving the most funding ever for an LNG project, sets Venture Global up to be a leading exporter in the United States. The 630-acre site will also be one of the company’s largest terminals, solidifying its position in the booming LNG market.

The construction of the export terminal started in 2021. Despite the numerous permit violations at Venture Global’s other Louisiana terminal, the project has continued to make progress. This is also happening as the company’s own clients, including BP and Shell, take legal action against them for not fulfilling contracts. According to CEO Michael Sabel, the company is too focused on success to be concerned about these complaints, as he told the Wall Street Journal last month.

Last year, from June to November, the coastal area of Plaquemines Parish experienced water pressure problems due to a drought. As a result, air conditioners and hot water heaters were shut off, machinery was at risk of breaking, and schools and the local daycare were occasionally forced to close.

In September, a student reported to WDSU, a local news channel, that they had missed three days of school the previous week because of water problems. They were unable to use the toilets or wash their hands. Emma Hotard, a high school student, stated that the lack of functioning air conditioning was the biggest challenge during the outages. Due to low water pressure, the chillers were unable to operate during Louisiana’s record-breaking hot summer.

Hotard stated that certain days at school were exceedingly warm and attempting to complete tasks in such conditions was a source of great annoyance for all.

In an interview in October, Jeff DiMarco, who oversees the Plaquemines public service department, confirmed that the demand for water in Plaquemines was greater than the supply. He also stated that the treatment plant upstream was operating at its highest possible capacity and facing significant strain.

When questioned about the potential impact of the LNG terminal on water shortages, DiMarco admitted he was not aware of Venture Global’s specific usage rates.

According to public records, it is evident that Venture Global was consistently the biggest user of water in the Port Sulphur water district. During the months of July, August, and September, Venture Global was the primary commercial water consumer in the district. So far, the only project undertaken by Venture Global in Plaquemines is the construction of its LNG terminal.

However, the percentage of the nearby water resources utilized for the construction of the LNG terminal may be greater if we take into account the local businesses that are providing services for Venture Global.

As an illustration, a particular business that deals with concrete has consistently ranked second in terms of water usage among commercial users in the nearby Belle Chasse water district. An individual working at this business’s location confirmed that their main client in Plaquemines parish is Venture Global.

John Sabo, an expert on water resources at Tulane University’s Bywater Institute, shared the same thoughts as some locals, stating: “In times of water scarcity, the primary concern should always be meeting basic human needs.”

Summer effects

As work continued on Venture Global’s recently built terminal, locals reported that their water was still not suitable for drinking, despite their water expenses rising.

On August 14, 2023, the local government made a pressing request on its official Facebook page to all residents. They urged immediate action towards reducing water consumption due to a sudden increase in demand. The notice advised shorter showers, recycling water, and postponing non-essential activities that require a lot of water.

During that particular month, Venture Global utilized more than 1 million gallons (equivalent to 3.8 million liters) of water, which accounted for 13% of the total water consumption in the district.

As the crisis worsened, the percentage increased. During the month of September, when South Plaquemines high school was closed for several days due to low water pressure, Venture Global utilized 24% of the total water used in the shared water district.

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Building Venture Global’s LNG terminal has required a significant amount of water – even more than what the company originally predicted. According to public records, in October alone, Venture Global utilized over 3.5 million gallons (13.2 million liters) of water, surpassing their projected daily maximum usage of 100,000 gallons (379,000 liters) outlined in their environmental assessment.

On October 15, 2023, advocates in the area sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), urging them to reject Venture Global’s certification request due to their excessive water usage that disregards the needs of the local community.

A couple of days after the complaint on October 15th, Keith Hinkley, the president of the parish, responded to Ferc by stating that Venture Global’s usage of water from the Parish supply has been minimal and that the company has been a positive presence in the community.

The following day, Venture Global was granted Ferc approval to expand their staff and construction timeline.

It is highly probable that the construction of the LNG terminal has exceeded the anticipated maximum usage of 11m gallons (42m liters) of water, as stated in the company’s environmental impact statement to Ferc. Between May and October 2023, Venture Global utilized a minimum of 10m gallons (39m liters) of water.

The excess water usage becomes notably more impactful when taking into account the additional water used by other businesses involved in the construction of the terminal, as well as the thousands of construction workers employed for the project.

If it can be determined that the concrete company in Belle Chasse, which is adjacent to Venture Global, is responsible for the water usage, it has been revealed that the terminal construction project has utilized 25 million gallons (95 million liters) of water in only six months, exceeding its estimated total usage by over two times.

Venture Global failed to respond to the inquiry for a comment.

Effects on residents

During the months of July to November, workers at the harbor in Buras, Louisiana experienced problems with water pressure. These issues posed a threat to the equipment, specifically the expensive ice machines that are vital for preserving the freshness of their shrimp catch.

Derek Ditcharo, a dock worker, warned that the low water pressure could potentially cause damage to the entire machine.

Despite the slight increase in water pressure towards the end of the year, during the late summer and fall, there was still a lack of water for basic tasks such as brushing teeth. This was reported by a resident who stated, “At the end of the night, you could barely get enough water on your toothbrush.”

Shirley Clark, an expert in water resources, stated that certain construction procedures, such as dust control, can significantly reduce water consumption if time is not a factor and recycled water is used instead of tapping into fire hydrants, which is what Venture Global currently does. However, the company has dominated the LNG export industry due to its incredibly fast construction pace, setting a record for the quickest development of a greenfield LNG terminal.

Officials from the public works department of Plaquemines parish and the contractor, Inframark, have stated that the issues with water infrastructure are due to intense heat, dry conditions, and land sinking, causing water mains to break. DiMarco mentioned that they are currently discussing potential solutions with consultants, such as building new water treatment plants or increasing capacity. These discussions also involve Venture Global, a company that has received over $800 million in tax incentives from the state.

In October, the parish fixed one of its damaged treatment plants, relieving strain on the water resources.

However, with the climate emergency intensifying, the infiltration of saltwater is projected to have a growing effect on Plaquemines, as well as coastal regions throughout the nation. According to DiMarco, this will likely lead to more frequent water issues and an increase in water usage by Venture Global.

According to DiMarco, the public services department has not been giving priority to residential users and has not implemented any restrictions. Instead, they have been requesting residents to limit their lawn watering to a minimum in order to manage the current situation.

Source: theguardian.com