Mary Tutwiler

Weeks Island salt dome under review for hazardous waste storage

by Mary Tutwiler

Yet another out-of-state company is attempting to use one of south Louisiana’s salt domes for industrial purposes. CCS Midstream Services, a Canadian oilfield waste company with facilities in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia has applied for a permit to pump a slurry of crude oil, crude oil components, drilling mud, hydrocarbons and drill cuttings mixed with salt water into the Weeks Island salt dome.

Three of Louisiana’s coastal salt domes--Weeks Island, Avery Island and Jefferson Island lie in Iberia Parish. While Avery Island’s salt dome has been in private hands since the 1830s and thus protected, both the Weeks and Jefferson Island domes have been under pressure from industry for commercial use. Atlanta based AGL Resources is in a battle with residents surrounding Lake Peigneur over the use of the underwater dome as a storage cavern for compressed natural gas. That fight is currently being played out in the Louisiana Legislature.

Meanwhile, Weeks Island, which is located in Vermilion Bay, is being eyed as a place to dump exploration and production waste from the booming oilfield. Morton Salt had a mine in the dome, and from 1977 to 1992, the federal government stored crude oil in the excavated cavern. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve facility was emptied in 1993 when it was discovered that there was faulting at surface level and a possibility of the oil leaching into Vermilion Bay. The SPR cavern was filled with brine to keep it stable.

CCS Midstream is looking at a second cavern in the dome. In order to fill the SPR cavern, salt was solution mined at a deeper level and the resulting brine pumped in as the crude oil was pumped out. CCS applied to the state Department of Natural Resources for a permit in 2007 to use that deep cavern for oilfield waste disposal. CCS Midstream needs both a Coastal Use Permit and a Conservation Permit to begin barging waste in through the Intracoastal Waterway and to the docking facility in Weeks Bay for disposal in the salt dome. The permits are currently under review. Should they be granted, the cavern could hold up to 11 million barrels of  waste.