In addition to serving as manager of the storied tourist destination, Richard also is the de facto resident historian. When he makes a point, he likes to have documentation to back up what he's saying ' lately it's just a matter of finding it.
"I've accumulated a lot of stuff," he says as he sifts through a filing cabinet drawer filled with old maps. Looking over a Jefferson Island Salt Mining Co. map from the 1940s, Richard points out the spot where a drilling rig punctured the wall of a salt mine on Lake Peigneur in 1980, a catastrophic event that put Jefferson Island on the national news.
The shocking drilling accident turned the lake into a giant whirlpool and swallowed about 65 acres of land, including some homes and historic oak trees and pecan groves. To this day, a brick chimney from the home of the late Jack Bayless Jr. ' Richard's former boss ' ominously rises out of the lake near the Rip Van Winkle Gardens. "We saw what one little miscalculation did," says Richard. "It put all these people out of work. It ruined an industry that we had here that employed people since 1920."
That's just one of the reasons Richard and other area residents are so opposed to the creation of two natural gas reservoirs in the salt dome underneath Lake Peigneur. Jefferson Island Storage and Hub, a natural gas storage company, already owns and operates two natural gas storage caverns in the Jefferson Island salt dome. The company is now seeking state and federal permits to drill two new salt caverns ' a $100 million expansion that would double its current storage capacity. These oval-shaped storage caverns are approximately 1,200 feet tall and 300 feet in diameter.
Richard and other Jefferson Island residents have multiple concerns. "Each of these caverns contains 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas under 2,000 pounds of pressure," says Richard, "And there's only one valve between the gas and the pipeline."
"That's a lot of gas," he adds, raising his eyebrows. "To put it in terms of dollars, that's $60 million worth of gas in each cavern."
Richard has formed a coalition of concerned residents and succeeded in getting the Iberia Parish Council to pass a resolution opposing the salt caverns. St. Martin Parish state Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand has also introduced a resolution in the state Legislature requesting that the state Department of Natural Resources deny mining permits for the project. The only government agencies with any regulatory authority over the project are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DNR. Jefferson Island Storage and Hub needs permits from the Corps for the dredging it will need to do at the bottom of Lake Peigneur and for a new pipeline. DNR will need to approve permits for the salt cavern and for three salt-water disposal wells.
Jim Pitts, general manager of Jefferson Island Storage and Hub, says his company is working with regulators to address all concerns and that they hope to have their permits in hand to begin work this summer.
"These regulations are designed to protect the public as well as the employees of our facility," he says. "We follow all those regulations, and we believe our facility is safe and shouldn't cause any concern for the residents."
Mining salt caverns is no simple endeavor. After drilling into the salt dome to a depth of 3,800 feet, Jefferson Island Storage then plans to pump in fresh water from a nearby well at a rate of 3,000 gallons per minute to dissolve the salt. Brine will simultaneously be pumped out of the cavern at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute into a disposal well 6,500 feet below the surface. This water cycle will go on for four to five years to create the two caverns. The proposed Jefferson Island project will use approximately 7.8 billion gallons of fresh water from the Chicot Aquifer.
In addition to the inherent safety issue involved with storing such large quantities of natural gas beneath the shallow lake, Richard is raising concerns about the area's fresh water supply. "The geology of the area is very faulty," says Richard. "We're worried about all these potential places for [salt] leakage to occur and get commingled with the ground water."
Don Broussard, water operations manager with Lafayette Utilities System, says it's highly unlikely that salt water from 4,000 feet underground will reach the fresh water in the Chicot Aquifier. However, Broussard shares concerns that residential water wells could experience reduced pumping capability due to the 7.8 billion gallons that will be used for the caverns.
Richard is also wary that Atlanta-based Jefferson Island Storage and Hub's proposed expansion is purely profit-driven and isn't based on energy needs. He says natural gas storage provides a means for speculators to "play the market": buy gas when price and demand is low in the summer, and then resell it when prices go up during cold winter months when demand peaks. "They call it parking the gas," Richard says. "While you and I are hoping for a mild winter so our utility bills won't go through the roof, these guys are hoping for colder weather."
Pitts contends that his business simply involves selling a storage service, "similar to a bank."
"We don't actually own gas that resides in our caverns," he says. Rather, Jefferson Island Storage stores gas for an array of natural gas industry clients, ranging from producers to brokers to distributors, who need a secure facility to store their gas.
"They deliver their gas to our facility, and we inject it into the caverns for storage until the customer wishes to withdraw it."
As a major purchaser of natural gas, LUS Director Terry Huval says natural gas storage can help stabilize a sometimes-volatile market and can be critical in emergency situations, such as when a hurricane cuts off production in the Gulf.
"As there is more stored natural gas the prices for natural gas tend to drop," he says. "The more storage there is that means that there's not as great a demand for the supply that's available so it actually tends to mitigate the price of natural gas."
Natural gas storage is on the rise statewide. Joe Ball, director of injection and mining at the Department of Natural Resources, says his department has received applications for 10 new salt caverns to store natural gas over the past year. "Which is significant because we can go years without getting any [applications]," he says. Louisiana has 13 gas-storage salt caverns at seven different locations; DNR recently granted permits to Bobcat Gas Storage for two gas-storage salt caverns in St. Landry Parish, near Port Barre.
"I see it as an increased demand in the use of natural gas, the increase in the price of natural gas, the increase or proposed increase in LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] facilities in the state or offshore," says Ball. "The gas has to be placed somewhere."
Richard just doesn't want it at Jefferson Island. This isn't the first time he's tried to prevent the storage of natural gas in the Jefferson Island salt dome. In 1994, he was involved with a citizens group that sued to prevent two gas reservoirs under Lake Peigneur. The effort failed, but Richard feels the group has much better odds of success this time around.
"I think the sentiment of the public and the level of concern of the importance of some of these environmental issues has come a long way. Just because it's been done somewhere and it's worked doesn't mean it's safe, and we want to show that. It's not safe, and until it is, we're dead set against it."
The Louisiana Supreme Court has punted on its first chance to decide whether a new state constitutional provision declaring gun possession a fundamental right could void a long list of criminal statutes that regulate firearms.
New Orleans' offense, which ranks sixth in the NFL, isn't helping many of its skill players pile up Pro Bowl-type stats. Rather, the approach of coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees has enabled a wide range of play-makers to emerge periodically with high-production outings.
An ordinance phasing out a rebate businesses receive for collecting and remitting sales taxes is tabled, but it doesn’t solve the vexing issue of government revenue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, December 12, 2013:
As part of a national undertaking known by industry insiders as the “Butterfly Project,” a rebranded version of The Daily Advertiser is set to launch with Sunday’s edition of the Gannett-owned paper.
Louisiana moved up a slot to 48th in the ranking of healthy states — once again, thank God for Mississippi! — so all this frettin’ about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid per Obamacare ... fuggidaboutit! We don’t need Medicaid no more!
The Denham Springs woman who placed Christmas lights in the shape of a butter finger on her roof in a display of anger directed at neighbors has doubled the trouble for the 2013 holiday season.
The 30-second commercial, to run around the state, is the Democratic senator's first TV spot in her bid for re-election to a fourth term.
It's a number that has edged up but falls far short of the thousands who are eligible for subsidized coverage.
A group of mostly higher education leaders will make recommendations to state lawmakers about how to tweak the policies governing tuition rates charged at the state's public colleges.
That would be Congressman John Fleming talking about Sen. David Vitter.
The alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme that went on for four years under DA Mike Harson’s nose isn’t just schizophrenic, bipolar and recovering from mini strokes; he now says he has cancer.
Louisiana's higher education leaders are trying to work out a financing deal to keep the state's public colleges from running low on state cash to operate their campuses.
With their latest triumph, the Saints left little doubt about how tough they are to beat in the Superdome. Unfortunately, two of their remaining three games are on the road.
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
Last week, the Saints gave up 429 yards to Seattle, second most in a game this season.
Since Anthony Jennings and Brooks Haack were not expected to contribute until next year at the earliest, it seemed like a sneak peek at hidden Christmas gifts.
Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team's stellar defensive play so far this season. "Apparently we like to bite on the double moves," Rivera said.
Computer hackers may have gained access to the personal information of thousands of Louisiana residents who use debit cards issued by JPMorgan Chase for three state agencies, authorities said Wednesday.
Jim Purcell, who has been in the job since February 2011, notified the Board of Regents about his decision at its monthly meeting.