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To the right, Sasol’s kerosene tanks face Old Spanish Trail in Westlake. The tanks can hold up to one to one-and-a-half barge loads of kerosene. (Frank DiCesare / American Press)

To the right, Sasol’s kerosene tanks face Old Spanish Trail in Westlake. The tanks can hold up to one to one-and-a-half barge loads of kerosene. (Frank DiCesare / American Press)

Residents voice praise, concern over Sasol projects

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:20 AM

By Frank DiCesare / American Press

It was a packed house at Westlake City Hall Tuesday night as more than 100 people came out to voice concern and offer praise on Sasol’s multi-billion-dollar proposal to expand their plant.

Concerned residents, local officials, environmentalists, and several Sasol employees were given an opportunity to voice their comments as part of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality’s public hearing on Sasol’s application for 17 air and water permits. DEQ must approve all of these permits for Sasol to begin construction on an additional ethane cracker and a new gas-to-liquids complex at its Westlake plant.

Michael Thomas, Sasol’s vice president of U.S. Operations, gave an overview of the thousands of full-time and construction jobs the projects will create over the next five years. He added that the projects will increase Louisiana personal income by about $2 billion.

“If you do the math, that’s about $80,000 per job,” he said.

Thomas also said that Sasol is working with the communities in Southwest Louisiana “in response to their needs to help strengthen the communities.”

He added that Sasol’s permit applications demonstrate the company’s desire to minimize the overall environmental impact of our operations.

“We have complied with all environmental regulations and are investing in a wide-range of technologies and initiatives aimed at advancing sustainability and reducing Sasol’s overall environmental footprint,” Thomas said. He added that Sasol will invest in selective catalytic reduction technologies to reduce air emissions well-below those of more “commonly used technologies.”

Mossville residents, who live in the shadow of Sasol’s plant, said they have lived with bad air and water for years. Kathleen Simeon, a woman who worked in the environmental industry for 35 years, said she wants an independent contractor to review all of Sasol’s permits with DEQ.

“I am not against growth,” she said. “I am against environmental injustice.”

Simeon said she left Mossville for a job in Chicago in 1989. When she returned, her cats would not drink the tap water she would put out for them.

“I had to go to the store and buy water,” she said. “I don’t drink the water here, either.”

Vera Payne, a registered nurse and Mossville resident, said she has seen her community deteriorate over the years. 

“My concerns with Sasol being my neighbor are my water, my air and transportation going back and forth, the traffic in the area,” she said. “You’re going to use fracking. What are you going to do with all of that water that you’re dumping off?

“Our soil is already contaminated,” she continued. So are you going to put more contaminants in there? It will only hold so much. I have no problem with growth and development. But we want some top-paying jobs if we have to make these sacrifices.”

Some residents came out to support the project. Kenneth Eastman, a Westlake chiropractor and member of Axiall’s citizen’s advisory panel, said he only lives one mile from Sasol’s plant. He added that his daughter lives only two miles from the plant and that his grandson hopes to work for the company soon.

“The air and the land and the water today are far cleaner than they were when I grew up,” he said. “These are the direct results of the efforts of the various environmental groups and also the environmental regulations our state has put in place and has actively enforced over the years.”

Eastman added that there are risks in everything people do.

“Look at the accidents on the highway,” he said. “But do we quit driving our vehicle even though there is a potential for harm? 

“I don’t care how much money you bring to me,” he added. “If you’re going to poison my grandson, I don’t want you here. But it is my opinion that the environmental regulations that we have in this state and the demands of the citizens of this state will insist that those environmental regulations be reasonable and that they are safe.”

DEQ must approve all of the permits for Sasol to begin construction on both projects. The Environmental Protection Agency has federal oversight of the permits. If the agency finds reason to object to any of the proposed permits, DEQ officials must remove the cause for objection before approval is granted.

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.

DEQ’s comment period on Sasol’s proposed projects will end at 4:30 p.m. April 9.

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