COTE BLANCHE ISLAND — A new report from a Louisiana State University professor and mine consultant found a proposed natural gas storage facility next to the salt dome here could pose a “significant safety risk for the miners.”

Henry Gas Storage LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Ranger Gas, is in the federal pre-permitting process to construct four natural gas storage caverns, a 12-mile natural gas pipeline and a 26-mile brine disposal pipeline through Cote Blanche Bay.

The project could create 20 permanent jobs, 1,600 temporary construction jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue and business sales.

But the location of the facility also could jeopardize the jobs of more than 150 salt mine workers at the North American Salt Co. at Cote Blanche Island, workers have said.

Robert Thoms of Baton Rouge, a civil engineering professor at LSU and former adviser for the Federal Energy Regulatory Com-mission, said in his report “anomalous potash features” in the dome could diminish over time and eventually serve as “leak paths” from the gas storage to the mines, according to a release from North American Salt Co.

North American Salt Co. spokesman Dave Hyams said Thoms was hired by the salt company to perform the study, adding the report puts in technical terms what was initially a “common sense concern from miners.”

“This report clearly means that Cote Blanche Island is not the place for storing natural gas,” John Fallis, vice president of North American Salt Co., said in a release.

“There is simply too much risk that naturally occurring irregularities in the salt could create conduits for deadly gas to flow into the mine. We hope this warning will convince them to find a more suitable location, and that because of the significance of these issues, the Federal Energy Regula-tory Commission will conduct a full environmental analysis culminating in an environmental impact statement.”          

Hyams said the report has been submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, while Henry Gas is still trying to obtain permits.

The Cote Blanche salt mine produces more salt than any of the three operating mines in Lou-isiana.

The mine yields more than 3 million tons of rock salt per year and is used to de-ice highways in 18 states, as well as for industrial and commercial uses, according to the release.

The report confirms that all projects in Louisiana salt domes must pass state mechanical integrity tests at the time of construction, but adds “latent leak paths in potash-rich sandstone layers may not be detec-table at start-up of storage operations or during conversional (mechanical integrity tests).”

“This constitutes a major issue for solution mining and operating gas storage caverns at the Cote Blanche dome,” Thoms said in his report.

The full report is available at www.coteblanchemine.com/thomsreport.pdf, and more information on the natural gas facility’s pre-planning is available at www.ferc.gov. The Henry Gas docket number is PF08-28.

The Federal Energy Re-gulatory Commission said more public hearings will be advertised before the federal pre-filing process is complete.

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