Gen. Honore wants Westlake declared "a hot zone"

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore is riding into town this week to demand that the state declare Westlake “a hot zone,” a military term he uses for areawide health monitoring.

The demand is one of many Honore will bring on behalf of Mossville residents Tuesday night at the Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearing on Sasol’s proposal to expand its Westlake plant with an ethane cracker and gas-to-liquids complex.

“We want health monitoring of the entire area, Honore said. “We want the state to declare Westlake a hot zone. Why? Because in every direction you look there is a chemical plant or a refinery.” 

DEQ’s hearing, at 6 p.m. in Westlake City Hall, is expected to focus on the company’s application for air and water permits. The department must approve all of the permits — 17 in all — before construction can begin on the facilities.

If the Environmental Protection Agency finds reason to object to any of these permits, DEQ would have to remove the cause for objection before approval is granted, said Bryan Johnston, DEQ’s senior environmental scientist for the air permit division.

At the hearing, Honore and the Green Army will be joined by local environmental activists, including members of Mossville Environmental Action Now; Wilma Subra, a chemist and microbiologist who has represented Mossville residents since the late 1970s; and Michael Tritico, president of Restore Explicit Symmetry to Our Ravaged Earth.

Honore said Mossville residents are also demanding “21st-century monitoring equipment” in the water that will be discharged from Sasol’s plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as onsite offices for DEQ and EPA officials. 

“I do not trust a foreign company just like I don’t trust somebody who tells us that they are going to do something when we don’t have state regulators on site,” he said. “You can’t kill a pig in Louisiana without a federal officer or a state inspector there. But these people can run chemical plants and do drilling all on their own and then self-report to the state. That’s crazy.”

Honore said Mossville residents also want a reverse 911 line for emergency reporting and a black box installed at Sasol’s plant to record what happens “before, during and after an accident.”

Other environmentalists have concerns, too. Tritico said Sasol’s projects will add more than 10 million tons of new greenhouse gases every year into the atmosphere. He said Sasol’s amount is more than all of the greenhouse gases emitted from all of the oil refineries in the Lake Charles area combined.

Johnston, however, said the 10 million tons represents the carbon dioxide equivalent and does not “necessarily represent 10 million tons of pollution.”

“There’s a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But it is not alarming. The greenhouse gases will have no impact on the ozone readings of Lake Charles in any way, shape or form.”

Tritico said he would like to see Sasol invest in carbon-capture systems or “scrubbers” to help mitigate carbon dioxide emissions when the cracker and GTL units are operating. 

“Carbon dioxide is not that hard to scrub out,” he said. “You can dissolve carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide out and then you can precipitate it out as calcium carbonate and use it as a product. There are ways to capture carbon to keep it from going into the atmosphere. But it’s an extra expense, and it means a little less profit.”

Johnston said DEQ looked at scrubbing as a possible mitigation measure for the proposed facility. The department concluded, however, that the measure was “excessively expensive.” 

“We calculate (scrubbing technology) based on the dollars it would cost to remove one ton of pollutant,” he said. “For CO2 those figures ranged from about $61 to $63 a ton.”

Johnston said scrubbing has not been applied to any large-scale facility in the United States that has not been subsidized by federal dollars.

The only alternative to scrubbing, Johnston said, are energy efficiency measures that minimize the amount of fuel combusted so that CO2 emissions are as small as they can be. He said Sasol plans to implement energy-efficient measures in its new facilities but declined to comment on exactly what they were.

Tritico also said DEQ documents he obtained from the department’s website indicate Sasol’s plans to take roughly 13 millions gallons of water a day from the Sabine River for use in its daily refining activities. Tritico said Sasol’s refining will pollute the water, which Sasol will then discharge into the Calcasieu River.

In a statement to the American Press, Russell Johnson, Sasol’s director of public affairs, said the company will be “purchasing raw water and cleaning it for use” in its processes.

“Any wastewater that will be generated from our processes will be processed through a treatment system prior to discharge,” Johnson’s statement read. “Therefore all water that we discharge into the Calcasieu River will be first treated in a manner which ensures that no additional wasteload will be added to the river.”

In response to Sasol’s statement to the Press, Honore quoted former President Ronald Reagan.

“Trust but verify,” he said. “We want to see what technology is going to be used on every area downwind from this plant, that there are automated air monitoring systems that are run by the state, not by some association of plants like we have going on there right now. That’s just like saying I get to report what speed I’m going. That’s stupid.”

Jean Kelly, DEQ’s public information officer, said the hearing’s format will not allow the public to ask questions about the proposed facilities. 

“This hearing is a chance for the public to make comments on the projects for the record without having to mail their comments in,” Kelly said, adding that EPA officials developed the hearing’s format. “All comments have to be considered and answered in determining whether the permits are granted or denied.”

Kelly said DEQ must follow the hearing format. She said the hearing will be videotaped and a paralegal will transcribe the minutes.

“A lot of times if we have a real controversial project we’ll try to hold a public meeting,” she said. “In that format, people can ask questions. In this case, it’s just the public hearing.”

Sasol’s proposed $7 billion ethane cracker will produce ethylene, a hydrocarbon found in products such as synthetic fibers, detergents, paints and fragrances. The cracker is expected to produce about 1.5 million tons of ethylene a year. Construction on the ethane cracker is expected to begin next spring.

Sasol’s GTL complex is expected to produce more than 96,000 barrels of diesel fuels and chemicals each day. The complex will also convert natural gas into diesel fuel, naphtha, paraffin waxes, lubricating oils and liquid propane gases.

The GTL complex will house Sasol’s second linear alkyl benzene unit, which will increase the company’s production of detergent alkylates. Sasol’s LAB units convert paraffin steam into linear alkyl benzene, a compound used as a surfactant in laundry detergent. The complex will cost $11 billion to $14 billion. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

The public comment period for Sasol’s two projects began Feb. 14 and was initially scheduled to end Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Subra, however, told Mossville residents at a workshop Saturday that DEQ officials have extended the period to 4:30 p.m. April 9.

Honore said he understands the excitement surrounding Sasol’s proposed expansion. But, he said, Louisiana officials need to proceed with caution before they approve any of the project’s permits.

“I understand the importance of the gas and oil companies to our national security,” he said. “But that doesn’t give them the right to pollute Louisiana. They’ve got to fix what they break, and they’ve got to clean up after themselves.”