In May 2021, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced that the longtime oil and gas state will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse case emissions and supporting the Paris Climate Agreement.
“Together, Louisiana and other Alliance states are demonstrating that there are different ways to decarbonize and that this can be done in a way that is balanced, implementable, and effective,” said Governor Edwards in a statement announcing the move. Louisiana is the first and, so far, only Gulf Coast state to join the Alliance.
The announcement comes less than a year after Governor Edwards signed an executive order creating Louisiana’s first-ever Climate Initiatives Task Force, a diverse group of industry leaders and stakeholders who will study and propose measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-50% by the year 2030—and to net zero by the year 2050. The Task Force’s proposal is due in February 2022.
According to a recent greenhouse gas inventory by Dr. David Dismukes of the LSU Center for Energy Studies, Louisiana produced 216.96 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and carbon-equivalent gases in 2018. That was a sharp decline from the year 2000 figure of 242 metric tons—but an increase from 2005, when the state produced 215.17 million metric tons of carbon emissions. In 2018, industrial sources produced 62% of Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions. For that same year, industry-based emissions for the entire United States were only 22%.
The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) initially expressed support for the Governor’s initiative. “[T]his task force allows our state to show the world that energy production and environmental stewardship go hand in hand,” said LMOGA Vice President Lori Leblanc. “Through the efforts of this task force and the actions of LMOGA members, Louisiana can become a leader in climate change solutions.” LMOGA President Tyler Gray later stated that energy production and carbon neutrality were not mutually exclusive. He and other industry leaders are lobbying for the use of mitigating techniques, like carbon capture, and a slower transition away from fossil fuels. Gray is a member of the Governor’s Task Force.
Changing Energy Trends in Louisiana
Louisiana is one of the nation’s top five producers of natural gas. In 2020, the state accounted for 9% of the total marketed gas production in the United States. Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly 20% of the nation’s refining capacity and can produce approximately 3.4 million barrels of crude oil per day. In 2020, Louisiana shipped out nearly 55% of the country’s total liquefied natural gas exports. At the same time, Louisiana’s energy-intensive chemical, petroleum, and natural gas industries have made it the fifth-largest carbon-producing state. Louisiana also has the highest per capita residential sector electricity consumption in the nation.
Historically Louisiana has provided its oil and gas industry with tax breaks and other incentives. Yet less than 20% of the state’s gross domestic product comes from oil and gas, down from 40% in the 1980s. Notably, in November 2020, Shell announced that it was closing its refinery in Convent, Louisiana after the producer failed to find a buyer for the idle facility.
Only 4% of Louisiana’s total energy production currently comes from renewable sources. But Governor Edwards hopes to change that. Shortly after establishing the Task Force, the Governor announced an initiative to create “a blueprint for renewable energy production in the Gulf of Mexico.” The Governor also requested that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management begin coordinating lease proposals for wind energy in federal waters off the coast of Louisiana.
“[L]ouisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of U.S. offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean,” said Governor Edwards. Several Louisiana-based companies have already capitalized on this trend and helped develop the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. Large renewable-energy companies are eyeing investments in Louisiana. For example, GE’s LM Wind Power is currently developing the world’s largest wind turbine blades just outside of New Orleans. NuQuest Energy is planning utility-scale solar farms and carbon sequestration facilities outside of Baton Rouge. The company’s founders include several oil and gas executives hoping to leverage their experience to capitalize on Louisiana’s transition into renewable energy production. There are also several major biofuel plants in development in West Baton Rouge, Iberia, and Caldwell Parishes.