U.S. undecided if Miss. salt dome will store petroleum

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mississippi officials don’t expect a decision before the end of September on whether part of the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve will be stored in the Richton salt dome.

Richton is one of two sites under consideration in Mississippi. The U.S. Department of Energy in 2005 added the Bruinsburg salt dome near the Mississippi River just south of Vicksburg as a possible location.

The other salt dome sites being considered are Chacahoula and Clovelly in Lafourche Parish, La., and Stratton Ridge in Brazoria County, Texas.

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In Mississippi, there are about 50 salt domes used for petroleum product storage, according to state officials. The Richton site could store 160 million barrels, roughly 16 percent of the one billion barrel target, officials said.

The Richton dome is a 1,500-acre site located off Mississippi 42, west of Richton. The site was studied in the late 1970s as a possible storage site for nuclear waste and again in the early 1990s as a petroleum storage site.

“We are still hoping, but we’ve not heard anything,” Mayor Jimmy White said.

White said area residents overwhelmingly support using the salt dome site to hold the nation’s petroleum reserves.

The decision on which of the five sites under consideration would be selected was due in early August but has been pushed back to the end of September, said David Johnson, DOE project manager for the Richton salt dome site.

“We had not finished the work at the Bruinsburg site, which caused the delay,” Johnson said.

Emergency crude oil is stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in salt caverns. The caverns offer the best security and are the most affordable means of storage, costing up to 10 times less than above-ground tanks and 20 times less than hard rock mines, Johnson said.

If Richton is selected, construction time is estimated at nine to 10 years, including development of two pipelines to Pascagoula.