Potential Graves of Enslaved Being Investigated at Proposed Air Products Blue Hydrogen and Ammonia Site in Cancer Alley
Company has not notified local communities of their investigation
According to records obtained from the Louisiana Division of Archeology, Air Products is currently investigating potential burial grounds on its site once occupied by one of the largest sugar plantations dependent on slave labor in Louisiana.
For at least 18 months, the company has had plans to construct a hydrogen and ammonia manufacturing plant on the former Orange Grove Plantation. Air Products has failed to notify local communities of its investigation and recent discoveries.
“There is no indication that Air Products has attempted to find any descendants of anyone who may have been buried at the Orange Grove Plantation,” states Kaitlyn Joshua, Earthworks’ Gulf Coast Campaigner, resident of Ascension parish. “Air Products should make this process known to the public, especially residents in area communities and places where potential descendants may live.”
Air Products also failed to notify the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) about the potential burial grounds on its site before obtaining a construction permit for its plant. The plant is part of Air Products “Blue Energy Project” that involves the highly contested plan to inject carbon dioxide deep under Lake Maurepas. Burnside is named after John Burnside who had enslaved over 750 people at the Orange Grove and other plantations in that area. An earlier survey of the Air Products site describes a small cemetery that would likely have been for “the owners of the Orange Grove Plantation and their managerial employees” and that “no slave/tenant cemetery has been identified to date.” State records show Air Products contacted the Louisiana Division of Archeology on November 17, 2022 in an email with the subject “Unmarked Burials Permit,” stating:
We are planning to conduct ground scraping within the buffered area around the known extent of graves at the Orange Grove Cemetery in Ascension Parish. This is part of the Darrow Blue Energy Project.
On December 8, 2022, Air Products told the Division of Archeology that it found:
[A]pproximately 15 stones, mostly squared and resembling cemetery markers … distributed over an area located between 65 and 350 feet north of the protective fence around the Orange Grove cemetery.
These grave markers are located in an area where Air Products plans to build, according to detailed site drawings the company submitted to LDEQ over a year ago. But instead of telling LDEQ that it has discovered potential unmarked graves on its site, Air Products asked for a construction permit for its project on December 9, 2022. There is no indication that Air Products has altered its site plan or that it will look beyond the area around the known cemetery for other burial grounds.
“Air Products has a serious blind spot. It has shown zero understanding of the horrors of slavery by planning its facility and seeking construction permits before doing the research needed to find and preserve all of the burial grounds that may exist on its site,” says Corinne Van Dalen, Earthjustice attorney.
For comparison, Shell Oil Company discovered “the unmarked graves of as many as 1,000 slaves” on sugar plantations immediately downriver of and adjacent to the Orange Grove Plantation in 2013 when it surveyed its property for plans to expand the Shell Convent Refinery. Shell Oil did not share this information with the public for another five years.
“The reason this land is available today for a project like Air Products is because of the plantation economy and slavery,” asserts Shamell Lavigne, Chief Operating Officer of RISE St. James. “The sugar industry was built on the backs of Black people. Petrochemical companies like Air Products don’t care about the living so I’m not surprised that they don’t care about the dead. It’s all about making money.”
More about the Site and the Project:
Industrial gas supplier Air Products plans to build a new industrial complex that will include a gas-fed blue hydrogen facility and an ammonia chemical plant. The 376-acre site is located in Ascension Parish on the East Bank of the Mississippi River just upriver of the St. James border in Burnside in a broader area called Darrow. This area already has some of the worst air pollution in the state. Toxic air pollution from existing industrial facilities in the area put residents within two miles of the site at a higher risk of cancer and respiratory ailments than 90 percent of all Louisiana residents. Air Products’ facility, if built and operating, would emit another 185 tons per year of toxic air pollutants.
Air Products plans to capture the carbon dioxide from the facility, compress it, and transport it in a new pipeline approximately 35 miles through the Maurepas Swamp to two injection wells deep under Lake Maurepas for storage. The storage project under Lake Maurepas has drawn much criticism from local advocates and authorities.
The Orange Grove Plantation site was once owned by John Burnside, namesake of the town and enslaver of 10 percent of the enslaved population (753/~7500) of Ascension Parish in 1860. The site was operated as a sugar plantation.
Air Products’ facility plan shows that the company intends to develop its entire site. It appears that Air Products has configured its heavy haul road to skirt around the small cemetery that was identified in a 2014 survey report but no other area appears to be spared.
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