Black history and heritage bulldozed by gas boom



WESTLAKE, La. — Stacey Ryan already knows where he’ll be buried. 

It will be in Perkins Cemetery, the same place his mother and father were laid to rest after dying from cancer. It’s where his aunts, uncles, grandfather and great-grandfather are interred, having been felled by various malignancies, diabetes, and ailments of the heart, respiratory system and pancreas.  Most of Ryan’s family is there, along with almost everyone else who ever died in Mossville, an unincorporated area founded by freed slaves.

Soon, the cemetery may be all that is left.

Sasol North America, the domestic division of a South Africa-based energy and chemical company, has begun offering voluntary buyouts to many of the 300 or so remaining inhabitants of Mossville. Some properties may be expropriated come February. By 2018, the land Ryan and other holdouts have fought to keep will be consumed by an $8.1 billion ethane cracker and a multibillion-dollar gas-to-liquids facility, a massive addition to a plant Sasol already operates nearby.  

The state of Louisiana says it will allow the facility to release up to 10.6 million tons of greenhouse gases and 3,275 tons of volatile organic compounds such as benzene, a carcinogen, into the atmosphere each year. This is on top of the 963 tons of pollutants that were discharged into the air by Sasol and other companies within the 70669 ZIP code last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“With the plans they have,” Ryan said, “Mossville just sits in the way.” 

The Sasol project is among at least 120 of its type planned around the United States, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Environmental Integrity Project, a research and advocacy organization. Motivated by an abundance of cheap natural gas unleashed by hydraulic fracturing – fracking — companies like ExxonMobil and Shell want to build or add on to petrochemical plants, oil refineries and fertilizer plants in places like Mont Belvieu, Texas, and Monaca, Pennsylvania.  They have asked state regulators for permission to release a collective 130 million tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent, a measure of the global-warming potential of certain emissions.

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