Fighting for Home and Way of Life

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Louisiana fishermen long counted on their coastal catch. But LNG terminals have not only harmed aquatic ecosystems and dramatically reduced available fish, they’ve stolen people’s livelihoods. Biden’s “pause” won’t change that.

Travis Dardar, an Indigenous fisherman, grew up on Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles, in Terrebonne Parish. It’s where his grandfather taught him to fish, shrimp, and oyster, in the tradition of the group of Louisiana Indigenous people who fled to the island when forced from their lands by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. 

Once 22,000-plus acres, Isle de Jean Charles saw its size eroded by 98 percent between 1955 and 2018, due to a combination of oil extraction, hurricanes, and sea level rise. In 2002, nearly 300 people made the island their home; today, just three households remain on Isle de Jean Charles’ 320 acres. After his grandfather passed away in 2015, Dardar was one of the many who moved his family to the mainland. 

“After the funeral,” he says, “I looked at my wife and I told her, ‘Let’s go. This ain’t home anymore. We’ll never get ahead if we keep losing everything we have.’” When Dardar first moved with his wife and two kids to Cameron Parish nine years ago, it reminded Dardar of what Isle de Jean Charles used to be. “We’d sit on the porch and listen to the waves hit on the shore — until they started building that plant [in 2019]. After that, all you could hear was the roar of the plant,” he says, referring to Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG terminal (CP1).

He describes life living near CP1 as “unbearable” and “miserable.” While living there, Dardar’s wife had a heart attack, and his son was diagnosed with depression. Also, Dardar says, “There’s no doubt they’re polluting the air. We lived through it. At moments, we would wake up gasping for air.” 

Dardar and his family ended up moving again, this time to Vermilion Parish, but Dardar still goes to Cameron to fish. Fishing is how he makes a living, to be able to pay his bills and support his family.

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The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a nonprofit “on a mission to end the petrochemical industry’s destruction of Louisiana” by helping communities that are next-door to polluters like CP1 to advocate for their rights. Brigade Director Anne Rolfes first met Dardar in 2022, while his family was struggling with frequent respiratory issues from the CP1 facility. “Our state and the local parish government have offered subsidies and all sorts of economic benefits to the gas export industry,” Rolfes says; “They have failed to work with fishermen.”

Louisiana is one of the most important states in the nation for commercial fishing. However, the goliath presence of the oil and gas industry threatens fishermen’s livelihoods, aquatic ecosystems, and the state’s seafood-centered culture. While state agencies closely monitor commercial fishermen to prevent overharvest, the oil and gas industry has been permitted to operate and expand LNG terminals.

Louisiana’s fishing and shrimping industry needs wetlands to survive. For example, marshes (a type of wetland that’s continually inundated with water) provide shrimp with food and protection from predators in their early life stages. The number of acres of existing marshes directly influences shrimp yields. Louisiana is home to three million acres of wetlands. Currently, the state is losing these ecosystems (and precious storm buffers) at a rate of 16,000 – 22,400 acres per year as a result of a variety of factors related to the petrochemical industry: oil spills, pollution, and the rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms and other weather events that result from climate change, which, of course, is itself worsened by the burning of fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, today Louisiana's wetlands account for about 40 percent of wetlands in the continental U.S., and about 80 percent of the country’s wetland losses. At the current rate, Louisiana will lose more than half a million additional acres by 2050, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Meanwhile, LNG terminal construction and expansion projects are endangering thousands of acres of wetlands in Louisiana, according to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) data. 

Historically, Louisiana contributed half of oyster landings (i.e., oysters harvested) in the U.S. However, oyster stock still hasn’t recovered from the BP oil spill in 2010, which cut oyster production by half that year, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Due to a combination of factors, including the BP oil spill and extreme weather events, oyster stock in Louisiana’s public oyster areas (historically the backbone of oystering in the state) is still less than half of what it was before the spill. As in any ecosystem, species are connected. Oyster reefs supply crucial foraging and refuge habitat for many economically significant fish and shellfish species such as redfish, shrimp, and blue crabs. “In my opinion,” Dardar says, “they need to compensate every fisherman for the damages that are already done, not just for what they’re wanting to do or trying to do. We’ve seen the amount of catch drop drastically.”


While CP1 was first built, Dardar started to raise his voice in opposition to the pollution’s destructive consequences for his family and the environment, with Rolfes’ help. Once Venture Global’s facility started operating, he took his activism a step further. In the beginning of 2023, Dardar created Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage (FISH) to organize commercial fishermen so they could face these threats together. Now, the group has dozens of allies throughout the state and nationally, including Earthworks, GreenPeace, Sierra Club, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, For a Better Bayou, Break Free from Plastic, Healthy Gulf, ​​Vessel Project of Louisiana, and Habitat Recovery Project

This coalition organized a petition demanding that President Biden stop Venture Global’s proposed second terminal in Cameron Parish (known as CP2) and that the Department of Energy (DOE) stop licensing new LNG export terminals. The petition received more than 420,000 signatures from environmentalists and the broader public.

fisherman with boat on street
Fishermen transported their boats to New Orleans to advocate for the environment and rev their engines outside one of biggest LNG conferences on January 19, 2024. – Courtesy of Louisiana Bucket Brigade

During January's four-day Americas Energy Summit & Exhibition, one of the world’s largest gatherings of oil and gas executives, held in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, FISH and its allies organized a week of demonstrations, marches, and protests right outside.

“We want our oystering back. We want our shrimp back. We want our dredges back. We want LNG to leave us alone,” said fisherman Solomon Williams Jr. when he took the microphone during the last day of the summit, when more than forty fishermen and shrimpers drove their boats on trailers from Cameron Parish to New Orleans so they could make their voices (and engines) heard. 

Actress and activist Jane Fonda joined the fishermen as part of her Fire Drill Fridays campaign. At the beginning of the rally, she spoke to the crowd and called on the Biden administration and the Department of Energy to put a stop to the LNG export terminal buildout in Louisiana. 

“I read the articles. I read the science. I’ve seen the photographs,” Fonda said to those at the rally. However, to spend time with fellow organizers and observe the gargantuan presence of the oil and gas industry in coastal Louisiana firsthand led her to see and feel the damage on a new level. 

“I’ve talked to people who have lost what was theirs over generations and are losing their livelihoods, the fishing, the oystering, the shrimping,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

According to FISH, the disruption forced the conference to end two hours early on its final day. One week later, on January 26, the coalition scored a major victory: President Biden announced that the Department of Energy has paused approvals for pending LNG exports. Since there’s no point in building a plant to liquefy natural gas if you don’t have a permit to sell that gas, this move effectively put further new plant construction on hold.

The pause will impact CP2, the second (and larger) facility Venture Global plans to build in Cameron Parish, which would liquify 3.96 billion cubic feet of gas per day (Bcfd). (Venture Global’s existing terminal, CP1 in Cameron Parish, liquifies 1.7 Bcfd.)

However, as Dardar notes, “a pause can be unpaused.” In addition, at least four significant projects that are proposed or already under construction likely won’t be affected by Biden’s pause since they’ve already obtained permits from DOE. Venture Global’s terminal in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, for example, (which will liquefy 3.32 Bcfd), is already approved and under construction. According to documents submitted by Venture Global, both this terminal and CP2 will be “technologically identical” to CP1. 

Meanwhile, CP1 had more than 2,000 permit violations in 2022, its first year of operation. Each of these violations means that the facility released pollutants that exceeded the limits set in their air permit. Half of these violations and 75 percent of CP1’s 2023 violations resulted from ongoing problems with the turbines that provide power to the terminal. The company failed to report these operational problems to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) until October 2023, when Venture Global reported to LDEQ that CP1 had been in violation of its permit for eighty-two days during the first 240 days of the year — that’s more than a third of the time. 

This reporting occurred only after LDEQ issued a compliance order and a notice of potential fines; Venture Global stated that its operational issues from 2022 had been resolved and asked for relief from any fines that might be levied. Earlier in 2023, the company also asked to modify its air quality permits to allow a 17 percent increase in toxic air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

Meanwhile, until CP1 is considered commercially operational, its long-term contractual obligations to sell LNG at a pre-designated rate to big buyers like Shell and BP don’t kick in, and in the meantime, the company has been profiting from selling at higher prices on the spot market — a clear benefit of not coming into compliance with air pollution regulations.   

FISH protesters with banner
FISH founder Travis Dardar (center) and allies protest outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana during January's Americas Energy Summit and Exhibition, one of the largest gatherings globally for LNG executives. – Courtesy of Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Dardar emphasizes that existing LNG terminals like CP1 have harmed and continue to harm the gulf’s ecosystems and fishermen’s way of life, saying that “[Biden] paused CP2, but what about CP1?”

Advocates hope that the Biden administration’s pause on LNG export permits leads to more action, such as denying CP2’s permits and preventing any further expansion of LNG in the Gulf Coast. In the meantime, Biden noted in his statement that the administration “will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and our environment” over the upcoming months.

“We don't know what's going to come out of this pause,” says Alison Kirsch, a senior analyst at Sierra Club. “DOE is reviewing how they determine whether LNG efforts are in the public interest, and we think that a real review will prove they’re not. So, it could eventually mean [DOE] would no longer act as a rubber-stamp for new permits.”


Fishing is not only a key contributor to the state’s economy, but it’s also vital to Louisiana’s culture. 

Rolfes calls seafood a “cultural touchstone.” Every year at Thanksgiving when she was a child, her family ate oysters, and each Christmas Eve, her mother made shrimp creole. Now, Rolfes carries on that tradition, but buying shrimp is nowhere near as affordable as it used to be.  

“I think we've forgotten that this is a local product,” she says. “With the proper policies around fishing, and proper support to the fishing community, we could get our culture back.”

While Louisiana is the top U.S. producer of shrimp, imports provide a whopping 90 percent of American shrimp consumption. Dockside prices (what shrimpers receive) dropped 40 percent from 2000 to 2003 and remain stagnant. In other words, shrimpers face two harsh realities simultaneously: reduced prices and reduced catch.

“We're at a really critical juncture in the state where we're either going to hand over our state once and for all to the gas industry and let them destroy really productive fisheries, or we're gonna realize what's at stake,” Rolfes says. “I mean, if things keep on as they're going, my kids certainly won't be making shrimp creole on Christmas Eve.”

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Raíz de Fondo in Baja California Sur’s capital city of La Paz is planting gardens, one mind at a  time. Read the story.

New edible spray gives Canadian cucumber producers the chance to ditch plastic wrap. Read the story.

These weaponized 3D-printed fake tortoises spray out noxious methyl anthranilate when pecked. Read the story.

Two Canadians help bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together. Read the story. 

The collection in Forks, Washington, showcases forty years of beachcombing finds, from beautiful glass floats to parts of a jet engine. Read the Story. 

Can recreation replace the state's traditionally coal-powered economy? Read the story.

The South Portland, Maine retailer is part of the ‘refill revolution’ around the country. Read the story

A former oil drilling site, Banning Ranch is nearing transformation into a nature preserve. Read the story.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles return to the ocean after being cold-stranded and undergoing specialized rehabilitation. Read the story.

As the Western United States and other arid climates around the world face increased wildfire activity, many civilians are forced to flee. Wildland firefighters run toward the flames. Read the story.

A new facility in Santa Barbara hopes to divert over 85% of the county’s organic waste. Is there still a place for community composting programs? Read the story.

How university students re-imagined parking spaces in the heart of downtown Toronto. Read the story.

What you didn’t know about ladybugs, butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, and how you can be a good global citizen by planting for them. Read the story.

The iconic park celebrates its 150th birthday this year with plans to protect it for another 150 years. Read the story.

An ambitious (and replicable) program in Vermont turns surplus food into delicious meals for the hungry, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. Read the story

Once considered unswimmable, the Willamette has found new life as a popular swimming and kayaking destination. Read the story.

 

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Nicole Javorsky
Nicole Javorsky
Nicole Javorsky is a freelance writer on environmental issues, public health, and the arts. Her reporting has been published in CityLab, Mother Jones, CNN, City Limits, The Hill, Grist, and more.
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