Booming natural gas exports threatening Gulf Coast fishing communities

By Shannon Kelleher

Most mornings, Nathan Berwick rises well before dawn at his home in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, setting out on nearby Lake Charles in a small fishing boat to check his crab traps. If it’s not too hot and the water is calm, Berwick’s family occasionally joins him on the boat. His eleven-year-old daughter enjoys playing with baby crabs that fall from the traps as Berwick hauls them from the water.

Berwick comes from a long line of crabbers dating back to the 1820s, when his ancestors first arrived in the heel of the Louisiana boot – the state’s southwest corner.

“Thirty years from now I want my children to be able to say, ‘this is my home, this is where eight generations of Berwicks have lived,’” he said.

But this simple dream is in danger from a growing threat facing Berwick and others who contribute to – and depend on – the $1.5 billion fishing industry along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

The fossil fuel industry has identified the Gulf region as a key site for expanding liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Eight new terminals are planned for southwest Louisiana alone, with a total of at least 16 new LNG projects anticipated for the Gulf region in coming years.

The terminals take in gas from transmission pipelines, cool it to a liquid, and store it for overseas exports. LNG is considered the cleanest of fossil fuels because it produces less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. And industry groups, including the Center for LNG, claim the fuel is vital to a clean energy future, with the potential to provide energy security and “lift people out of poverty.”

But environmental groups and concerned residents call the claims “greenwashing,” citing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and other air pollutants associated with LNG facilities, leakage, and emissions along its supply chain. They also point to a history of alleged shoddy operating practices that jeopardize public health and safety – all forced on communities with little consent.