Council representatives attend seismic testing demonstration

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, December 14, 2022

MAUREPAS — Moments after stepping off of a boat that had taken government officials and media members to the heart of Lake Maurepas for a seismic testing demonstration, St. John the Baptist Parish Councilwoman Tonia Schnyder labeled the afternoon “uneventful.”

A lone cane pole marked the site where 70 feet below the waterl charges were denotated. On the surface, there was no sound, no increase of wave activity, only the unknown as to what was happening to aquatic life near those charges.

Officials of Air Products, the company proposing a carbon dioxide equestration project in the lake, staged the demonstration with the hope of allaying the concerns of parish leaders, who have generally been boisterous in their opposition.

“If the project is as uneventful as it was today, I don’t see where there would be a problem,” Schnyder said “It was not a whole lot of activity.”

“All the way we have tried to be transparent in what we want to do,” Andrew Connolly, vice-president and general manager of Air Products, said after arriving back on dry land. “And this is part of that. A lot of people think seismic testing, how do they know what to expect? The best thing you can do is show them.”

Although the original testing created no boom or even a ripple on the lake, Schnyder shared sentiments of two her colleagues when she said additional information was required.

She also admitted that many of her constituents are concerned about the environmental impact the project would have on the lake.

“I was glad to be here and witness this, but I need to do more research and get more details,” she said. “I want more data and if there are any other projects where (Air Products) has done this.”

“The more information the better, and it helps make a better decision,” Councilman Warren Torres said. “I don’t know if I’m in favor of it or not.”

Councilman Tom Malik said he is not necessarily opposed to the project but does have specific concerns, some regarding the microphones that will be on the lake to mark the spots when seismic testing does begin.

Malik also expressed concerns about the 17 platform wells that will be on the lake for 25 years when the project is running at capacity and posed questions to Connolly about the impact.

Air Products is planning to build a blue hydrogen plant in Sorrento and transport the carbon deicide emissions via 37 miles of pipeline to the floor of Lake Maurepas for permanent storage.

The first stage is seismic testing, which Connolly said should start in early January and take approximately six months to complete and likely another six months to analyze the data. Once the analysis is complete, company officials said the data will then be sent to state and federal agencies for final approval.

Following the demonstration, Connolly maintained the concussion from the charges posed no threat to aquatic life, including to crabs and clams, which bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of the lake during winter months.

“People will make up their minds,” he said. “One of our goals is to educate. And show.”

Dr. Robert Moreau, instructor of biological sciences and director of the Southeastern Louisiana University Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, said he did not hear the explosion and saw no wave action.

He acknowledged the uncertainty regarding the environmental impacts, which is why SLU is independently monitoring the project.

“We are going above and beyond whatever (Air Products’) regulatory requirements are and looking at the actual biology,” he said. “We are doing it independently, and the only reason we are doing this is that (Air Products) agreed all of the data and all of the info we get is totally available to the public because we work for the environment and the people.

Dr. Kyle Piller, professor of biological services at SLU, said the lake has been monitored for the past two months, including the day before the seismic testing. Monitoring was also completed the day after but Piller added that is not enough data to draw accurate conclusions.

He said in January four buoys will be anchored in the lake and that every 15 minutes solar power geophones will take 10 to 12 different readings. He said the data will be uploaded to a website hosted by SLU that should launch in the early spring.

The information will be updated hourly, so even residents at home on their computers can monitor the levels.

“There will be a range of what CO2 should be,” Piller said. “If it is too high, I will get a text message and tell (Air Products) there is a problem. I can’t shut it down.”

For now, it’s a matter of testing and determining what the results will reveal, with SLU serving as an independent watchdog.

“We would not want anybody else to do it,” Moreau said. “This is our backyard.”