Greenhouse Gas Emissions In Louisiana: Large Facilities And The Mississippi River

Alexander S. Kolker, PhD.
Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium

This year, many people in Louisiana are examining records of greenhouse gas emissions across the state. This examination is fueled in part by a state-led effort to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gases emissions to net zero by 2050. It also dove-tails with long standing efforts to examine issues of air quality hazards and their relationship to health impacts and environmental justice concerns. The goal of this post is to inform this conversation using data and maps.

One valuable source of information on greenhouse gas emissions is the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Facility Level Information Greenhouse Gases Tool (FLIGHT). It provides data on greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities, following national reporting requirements for such stationary sources. In Louisiana, this includes sources that are associated with the energy and petrochemical industries, including powerplants, chemical facilities, refineries and pipelines. It also includes municipal sources, like landfills, and even some food processing facilities like the Folgers’ coffee plant in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood.

Figure 1. Greenhouse gas emissions in Louisiana from facilities, color coded by magnitude. Data source; US EPA FLIGHT.

Figure 1 is a map of all of the sources in FLIGHT database for Louisiana, excluding those located offshore, as a number of those are in federal waters. The data are reported in terms of, “CO2 equivalents,” (CO2e) a term that references the heat trapping abilities of greenhouse gases to the most common one, carbon dioxide (CO2).  While carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, it’s not the strongest. Molecule for molecule, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide N20, are stronger, about 84 and 298 times, respectively stronger. Methane, however, is shorter-lived, so its global warming potential is closer to 28 over a century. Fluorinated gases, which are used in some industrial processes, can be much stronger. Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) for example is up to 22,800 times stronger than CO2. (Fortunately, SF6 is present in much smaller quantities than C02 and CH4.)

While the FLIGHT tool is valuable, it does not reveal the entire picture of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The tool is not designed to measure emissions from mobile sources, like cars and boats. Nor does not track emissions from farms, or places where emissions are captured, like forests. Since the tool reflects emissions from large sources, it could well miss emissions from smaller sources- say an emergency generator. And, it only captures data that is reported by companies to EPA. If there’s a leaky pipeline somewhere that’s not measured, this isn’t reported here. If a facility misreports data that error could be propagated here.

Those caveats aside, the tool provides a useful guide to Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions, in part because so many emissions come from large facilities. In 2010, a group from LSU calculated a greenhouse gas budget for the state, and their report indicates that industrial sources and electric power accounted for about 72% of the state’s emissions. In 2005, when data for that report was collected, this amounted to 164 million metric tons CO2e out of that state’s total emissions of 228 million metric tons CO2e.

If this pattern holds, the FLIGHT tool should indicate the sources of a majority of the state’s emissions. It is not unreasonable to think the rest of the state’s emissions today are somewhat similar to what they were in 2005. The population is about the same size, the amount of land in agriculture is similar. While there are a few hybrid cars on the road and some solar panels finding their way onto people’s rooftops, there have not been too many major structural ways in which household dwellers use energy. (The LSU team is developing an updated greenhouse gas budget, which should help fill in some of these gaps.)

Adding up the total number of emissions reveals some interesting patterns. In 2019, the state emitted the equivalent of 140 million metric tons CO2. (The FLIGHT tool’s Louisiana page lists 146 million metric tons. Since 6 million of those are offshore- some in federal waters they are subtracted here.) For comparison, in 2019 Mississippi emitted the equivalent of 40 million metric tons of CO2. According to FLIGHT, Louisiana’s emissions are larger than Florida (121 million metric tons of CO2e), and California (93 million metric tons of CO2e), but smaller than Texas (380 million metric tons of CO2e.) While Louisiana’s emissions are larger that several larger states, some perspective is needed, as other states have a different mix of sources. For example, in 2016, California emitted 429 million metric tons of CO2e, of which 41% or 175 million metric tons came from automobiles. In many other parts of the country, automobiles are the largest greenhouse gas sources, and Louisiana is somewhat unique its the ratio of facility to automobile emissions.

The map of the FLIGHT database helps show where Louisianan’s greenhouse gas emissions come from (Figure 1). One thing that is apparent is that the Mississippi River corridor is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state (Figure 2). The state’s largest emitter is here, the CF Industries Nitrogen Complex in Donaldsonville. It produces fertilizer, and emits over 10 million metric tons of CO2e. (Making fertilizer, it turns our requires a lot of energy. It also uses methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.) Many other larger emitters are along the Mississippi River corridor as well, including the Exxon Mobile refinery in Baton Rouge (#2, 6.36 million metrics tons of CO2e), the Nine Mile Point gas-fired power plant in Jefferson Parish (#6; 4.64 million metric tons CO2e) the Garyville Refinery in St. John’s Parish (#7, 3.97 million metric tons CO2e) and the Norco Manufacturing complex in St Charles Parish (#8, 3.96 million metric tons CO2e).  

Figure 2. Greenhouse gas emissions in southeast and south central Louisiana. The scale and source are the same as Figure 1.

The proximity of these sources to the Mississippi River leads to at least two immediate discussion points. The first involves the uses of the river. Many in Louisiana recognize that the Mississippi River is the nation’s largest pathway for waterborne commerce – by tonnage, and that ports along the lower river are form the largest port complex in the nation- by tonnage.Shipping data reveals that much of what moves through the river is energy and petrochemical related. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, in 2019, over 213,000,000 short tons of commodities moved along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and Head of Passes. Of that, over 12,000,000 tons were coal, over 70,000,000 tons were petroleum, and petroleum products, and 21,000 tons were chemicals, fertilizers and other related products. Given the quantities of coal, petroleum, and chemicals that move along the lower Mississippi River, it is unsurprising that facilities near the river use them, resulting in high greenhouse gas emissions.

The other discussion point is one of environmental justice. Communities along the lower Mississippi River have large African American populations. There are longstanding concerns that these communities are exposed to high levels of environmental toxins, leading to poor health impacts. Groups like Rise St. James, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic have made this point more eloquently than this author can. While the present analysis cannot link these emissions to specific health impacts (and indeed CO2 itself is not acutely toxic), the high concentration of industrial emissions suggests a serious need to closely study the links between greenhouse gas emissions, health impacts, demographics, and environmental injustice.

One should also note the Mississippi River corridor is not the only source of emissions in the state. Some other areas also have high emissions- like southwest Louisiana. There are a number of large facilities in Lake Charles and along the Sabine River that reflect – in part- the industrial growth related to fracking boom. For example, the Sabine Pass LNG terminal has experienced emission growth from about 67,000 metric tons of CO2e in 2010 to over 5,000,000 metric tons of CO2e in 2019, reflecting its burgeoning position as a gas exporter. Other areas of concentrated emissions include the Shreveport/Bossier region, and the Alexandria region. These emissions that are linked to the modern fracking boom, and long-standing patterns in oil and gas transport, and the proximity to shipping along the Red River.

Overall, the EPA’s FLIGHT database provides scientists, regulators, decision makers and concerned citizens with useful information to understand the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This understanding which is a critical first step in meeting the state’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050.

Notes On Sources:

            The information cited in this article is readily available to anyone.

            The EPA’s FLIGHT database can be found at https://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do#.

            The data on shipping along the Mississippi River comes from the report, “Waterborne Commerce Of The United States, Calendar Year 2019. Part 2: Gulf Coast, Mississippi River and Antilles. It was produced by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Institute For Water Resources, Report number IWR-WCUS-19-2.

            The information on California’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the following website: https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/news/climate-pollutants-fall-below-1990-levels-first-time.

The previous greenhouse gas budget for Louisiana was in a report titled, “Louisiana Greenhouse Gas Inventory.” It was prepared by the LSU Center For Energy Studies, under the direction of Mike D. McDaniel, David E. Dismukes, Lauren L. Stuart and Kathryn R. Perry, and published in 2010.

Final Note: I feel should note that I member of the Science Advisory Group for Louisiana’s Climate Initiative. However, this writing does not reflect any official statement from that group, nor is this an official position of my employer, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). Instead, this document reflects my own research and personal scholarship. The thoughts expressed here, including any mistakes, are my own.

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