DOE hearings on storing oil reserves in salt domes to begin

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The U.S. Department of Energy begins a series of hearings this week into the government’s proposal to use water from the Pascagoula River in salt domes in Perry County for storage of the nation’s oil reserves.

The first public hearing is Monday at 6 p.m. in New Augusta at the Perry Central High School Gymnasium.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday at Greene County High School in Leakesville. Another hearing is scheduled Wednesday at the George County Civic Center in Lucedale and at the B.E. “Mac” McGinty Civic Center in Pascagoula on Thursday. All three hearings begin at 2 p.m.

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The DOE has proposed drawing about 50 million gallons of fresh water per day for five years from the Pascagoula River to hollow out the salt dome in Richton, where oil would then be stored as part of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The project is estimated to cost more than $3 billion.

The salty brine would be piped into the Mississippi Sound, which is one of many concerns of Eric Richards, with the Gulf Conservation Coalition.

“Brine disposal in the Gulf of Mexico will increase the salinity levels of the surrounding Gulf waters and the nearby Mississippi Sound. Due to the very large volume of the highly saline brine, (91 billion gallons) the increased salinity will have harmful effects on much of the marine life off the Mississippi Coast,” Richards wrote in an April 1 letter to the DOE.

The coalition is also concerned about the effects on shellfish, marine grasses and other marine life near the proposed discharge point.

David Johnson, a DOE representative, has told local officials that the brine would not affect the Mississippi Sound. He said fishermen in Louisiana and Texas found a number of fishing beds near the outlets of other storage facilities.

Some local communities have opposed the project.

The city of Moss Point passed a resolution this past week against the project.

“I think overall it’s not in keeping with our philosophy of preservation of the environment,” Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop said.

Moss Point, uses the Pascagoula River for tourism and recreational activities, Bishop said, and the effects of taking out those large amounts of water are still not 100 percent clear, but seem negative for his city.

“It creates an imbalance that intuition just tells me is not healthy,” Bishop said.

Richards has said that one alternative, a pipeline to the Mississippi River, would add only 20 to 30 miles of pipeline to the project. Johnson told George County supervisors that a pipeline to the Mississippi River would be 70 miles longer than one to the Pascagoula River.

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