LNG lobbyists ghost wrote Louisiana officials’ letters supporting gas storage project

(Courtesy Sempra Energy)

In an effort to gain federal approval for a natural gas storage project in south Louisiana, Sempra LNG lobbyists crafted letters for Louisiana elected officials to send to federal regulators in support of the project, reports Louisiana Illuminator.

Last fall, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greenlit the Hackberry gas storage project, which involves converting underground domes constructed in the 1970s to mine for salt into storage space for up to 25.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Sempra LNG has been trying to build the project in Cameron Parish since 2006, when the company planned to store gas in the caverns from its liquefied natural gas import facility. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing later created a surplus in U.S. natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The oil and gas industry searched for a market for the fossil fuel, using it as a main ingredient in synthetic fertilizers, amping up plastic production, and, beginning in 2016, exporting it overseas. In 2018, Sempra notified FERC that the company hadn’t gone through with the gas storage project because of unfavorable market conditions and requested to reapply for approval if market conditions improved. The company refiled in January 2021 as liquefied natural gas exports grew.

That same year Sempra lobbyists reached out to Louisiana state Sen. Mike Reese and Rep. Les Farnum for help in the last few days of the federal public commenting period on the project. Coordination between Sempra lobbyists and the elected officials was discovered in emails obtained through record requests by Documented, an investigative watchdog group, and reviewed by DeSmog.

In September 2021, Jim Nickel with Baton Rouge-based lobbying firm Courson Nickel emailed Farnum with a request. Sempra is among the companies that the lobbying firm actively represents, according to the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program.

“We are looking to get some comments into the FERC in support of the Hackberry Storage Project,” Nickel wrote to Farnum. “They are due this Sunday – September 26. Sorry for the last minute request.”

Nickel added that he would provide a draft letter for Farnum to send to FERC. Gay Courson, also with Courson Nickel, sent a similar email to Sen. Mike Reese the same day. The next day, the senator wrote back. Read the full story from Louisiana Illuminator.