The shale gas revolution is hitting home for a community in Louisiana. In anticipation of building a giant chemical complex at its site in Westlake, La., the South African company Sasol is offering to buy up about 400 properties from residents in a nearby neighborhood long surrounded by chemical plants.
Sasol plans to spend up to $21 billion on both a natural-gas-based ethylene cracker and a fuels facility that uses the firm’s gas-to-liquids technology. Together, the company says, the projects represent the single largest manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in the U.S.
“We recognize that our growth plans will result in the expansion of our facility closer toward our neighbors to the northwest and west of our existing facility,” says Mike Thomas, vice president of Sasol’s U.S. operations. The voluntary buyout program will be run by Community Interaction Consulting, which has administered similar programs around the country.
Environmental activists say the chance to move is coming none too soon for residents of Mossville, a historic African American community near Sasol and 13 other chemical plants in southwest Louisiana. A local group, Mossville Environmental Action Now, says it has been lobbying for relocation for years because of the effect of industrial pollution on property values and residents’ health.
“Environmental justice groups from all over the U.S. and the world are watching what happens in Mossville,” says Michele Roberts of the Environmental Health & Justice Alliance, another activist group.