The residents around Lake Maurepas and not thrilled with carbon capture. Now a test drilling is planned and objected to.

About 50 residents of Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa and other parishes flocked to Baton Rouge for a hearing on a global gas supply company’s application for a test well permit in Lake Maurepas. The stratigraphic test well is set to be built on the lake’s south side in St. John the Baptist Parish and would collect geotechnical data for the company’s upcoming blue hydrogen manufacturing plant. It’s the newest development in a months-long battle between local residents and Air Products, a company hoping to store carbon emissions under the lake. “That’s the first time anybody can recall anybody asking for a public hearing (on such test wells) because they tend not to be particularly controversial,” Patrick Courreges, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ communications director, said in an interview after the meeting Tuesday night. “In this case, I think folks have got their concerns for every step of this process.”

Air Products wants to build the largest carbon capture plant in the world in an area that has seen development and lies on the impacts.

Air Products announced last year plans to build a $4.5-billion hydrogen manufacturing complex in Ascension Parish, which the company proposes to open in 2026. The company says the plant would capture about 5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually to store about a mile beneath Lake Maurepas. The complex is slated to be the largest carbon capture and sequestration operation in the world. To complete the project, Air Products will need to apply for a Class VI injection well permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which requires preliminary work like conducting a seismographic survey that began this month, sealing any abandoned wells in the lake, and constructing two Class V testing wells in Lake Maurepas. Class V wells inject non-hazardous fluids underground and can be used for municipal, business and industrial purposes, according to the EPA, while Class VI wells inject carbon underground. These two particular Class V wells — which would be built in Livingston and St. James parishes — would collect geotechnical data for the company’s injection well permit application.

Most of the speakers at the hearing said no.

The majority of the 20 speakers at Tuesday’s hearing, all residents, elected officials and environmental groups in opposition to the project, made their message clear: They want DNR to pause this approval until Air Products releases its environmental impact statement to the Army Corps of Engineers detailing exactly how the project would affect the lake and surrounding area. “Give us a break, you guys,” said Wayne Guilbeau, a 67-year-old Springfield resident. “Hold off for the next six or eight months. Give old people like me who doesn’t have much money … time to get more information.” Others argued that residents haven’t been given a proper chance to speak against the project until now, as the Office of Mineral Resources’ public hearing on the initial operating agreement with Air Products took place less than six weeks after Hurricane Ida devastated the Florida Parishes. “I don’t think this project has been transparent to the people and to the parishes,” said Tangipahoa Council member Kim Coates. “We should have had a public hearing in each of our parishes before any of this went forward. I don’t see how this was allowed.”

The parish has send no and is involved in a court cast filed by Air Products.

This step of the process has already been slowed by a moratorium against Class V wells passed by Livingston Parish in September. Air Products sued the parish government in October, asking a federal court to deem the moratorium invalid and unenforceable because it contravened the authority of several state agencies. A judge will decide at a hearing in January if the drilling ban is enforceable, or if parish officials must allow the work to proceed. Air Products has taken numerous steps to try to address the concerns about the projects, like informational meetings for the public, seismic test demonstrations and weekly project updates on social media. “Air Products is committed to being a safe, transparent and responsible community partner in all ways: Our operations, our communications and our business,” Andrew Connelly, an Air Products executive, said during the hearing. “We intend to continue our over five decades of safe and responsible operations in Louisiana through this project and future investments.”

The residents should have a say and it all is up to the judge now.

Test wells for Lake Maurepas