Over 70 people attended the Save RGV from LNG kickoff campaign on Monday, April 11 to learn more about the liquefied natural gas export terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville and the negative impacts they could bring to the Rio Grande Valley.
Posted in Environmental Education, LNG Production and Export Terminals, Safety | Tagged environment, Sierra Club, LNG, Bahia Grande, Brownsville LNG, liquefied natural gas, export terminals, FERC | Leave a Comment »
By Scott Nicol
Three liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies have their sights on South Texas, looking to build massive industrial facilities next to Port Isabel and South Padre Island on land that currently consists of wetlands and wildlife habitat.
If they are built, they will be connected to Texas fracking fields by hundreds of miles of 42” wide pipeline that will slice through ranches and towns from Kingsville through Harlingen and down to Port Isabel. As they process the gas to liquefy and export it they will emit huge amounts of toxic volatile organic compounds and other pollutants into air that the prevailing wind will carry into Port Isabel’s public schools. They will also pump out greenhouse gases that will contribute to the global warming that already threatens South Padre Island with sea level rise and stronger hurricanes.
The companies state publicly that they will create hundreds of high-paying jobs, but in official filings Annova LNG was only willing to commit to 10 jobs at that would pay $36,000 per year. In exchange for employing fewer Texans than a single Whataburger franchise, they want millions of dollars worth of tax breaks from the state and Cameron County.
The idea that anyone, whether politician or private citizen, would support such a bad deal seems ludicrous. Yet many local politicians have lined up to do just that.
Cameron County needs elected officials who will stand up for its residents’ health and safety, and for a clean environment and economy.
That is why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club is endorsing Joseph Cantu for Cameron County Commissioner precinct 1 in the Democratic primary.
Joseph Cantu has long been an outspoken opponent of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals that have been proposed for the Brownsville Ship Channel.
When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held an “open house” last summer, allowing the LNG companies to set up displays and present sales pitches while restricting the public to giving statements to court reporters in a secluded corner, the Sierra Club teamed up with other local groups to stage a rally allowing residents to publicly air their concerns. Joseph Cantu took the stage and laid out a cogent and impassioned argument for preserving our environment and rejecting LNG.
Last September Annova LNG asked the Cameron County Commissioners Court for a tax break valued at $25 million. In the face of strong public opposition the Commissioners tabled, but did not reject outright, Annova’s request. This will come before the Commissioners again, and it is likely that the other LNG companies will also ask for big tax breaks.
This is why this race is so important to the Sierra Club and to the voters of Cameron County.
In response to a questionnaire that the Sierra Club sent to all of the candidates, Cantu said, “I am categorically and vehemently opposed to giving tax abatements to any and all proposed LNG companies. The landscape, water and clean air will be changed in this area forever if LNG companies open here and there is no amount of money that will replace the health of our children and the resources in our community.”
In contrast the precinct 1 incumbent, Sofia Benavides, has repeatedly spoken in favor of the LNG companies.
In 2012 Benavides wrote a letter of support for Gulf Coast LNG on her official letterhead. In 2015 she signed a letter to FERC that said, “I would like to offer my support to NextDecade, LLC in its development of its proposed multi-billion dollar, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, Rio Grande LNG.” While the letter gives the impression that she is personally enthusiastic about the project, the wording appears to have been written by the LNG company. Even though it was printed on her letterhead, it was bundled with 15 other letters of support that are nearly identical and were submitted to FERC by Rio Grande LNG. The “I would like to offer my support” sentence is repeated almost word-for-word in all 15 letters.
Cameron County deserves a Commissioner who will work for the people rather than for polluting industries, who values clean air for school children and unspoiled habitat for wildlife, someone who understands that the millions of tourists who visit South Padre Island come to fish and swim don’t want to see a flare stack when they watch the sun set.
This is why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club is endorsing Joseph Cantu for Cameron County Commissioner for precinct 1, and why it is so important for Cameron County voters to make their voices heard in the primaries between now and March 1.
BY STEFANIE HERWECK
6.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year.
That’s a conservative estimate of how much three proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies would pump into the atmosphere each year in order to liquefy their total capacity of gas for export.
That’s more than 40 times the GHGs currently emitted by standing sources in Cameron County. It’s about as much as two coal-fired power plants would emit in a year, and approximately the same amount of GHG pollution produced to power 900,000 homes with electricity.
In other words, the LNG industrial complex would supersize the carbon footprint of the Rio Grande Valley.
This number includes the GHGs generated by burning natural gas, either at the LNG facilities or at a power plant, in order to fuel the liquefaction process. It also accounts for the carbon dioxide that will be vented directly into the air during the gas refining process. None of the LNG facilities have plans to capture this carbon dioxide. GHGs are also released during the flaring that the companies will do to in order to release pressure from the system.
But the GHGs emitted in conjunction with the LNG terminals themselves are only a part of the total greenhouse gas footprint of LNG exports.
The liquefaction plants will be fed by natural gas extracted through fracking from the Eagle Ford Shale. We know that natural gas production, especially shale gas production, is a leaky business. Methane escapes throughout the process of drilling, gathering, refining and transporting the gas.
These so-called “fugitive” emissions have proved difficult to measure. The EPA’s current official estimate is that 1.6 percent of the natural gas in the supply chain is leaking into atmosphere, but many scientists have criticized this low number, and reports this year (here and here) have suggested the agency is significantly underestimating methane emissions. In fact, aerial and satellite monitoring has detected much larger quantities of methane over shale regions. One such study found the Eagle Ford region could be leaking as much as 9 percent of what it produces into the atmosphere.
This is a serious problem because methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas—its warming potential is 86 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and 34 times more over 100 years.
LNG exports would certainly intensify this problem. According to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, 60 to 80 percent of the gas that LNG companies plan to export would have to come from new production—that means 60 to 80 percent more drilling and fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale and an even greater quantity of methane pollution.
The LNG companies argue that gas exports will still be good for the climate because they will replace coal in Europe and Asia. However, a Department of Energy study, using leakage rates that we now know are too low, found that when we account for the cradle-to-delivery GHG pollution of LNG exports, natural gas isn’t any better for the climate than burning local coal in China. If we factor in the more likely higher rates of fugitive emissions, LNG exports are worse than coal in both China and Europe.
And what’s bad for the climate is fast becoming bad for business. According to an analysis issued last week by the financial think-tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, a global agreement to keep warming under two degrees Celsius, which is the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks, will preclude new major fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Any carbon-intensive projects like the LNG export terminals risk becoming stranded assets in a world with emission limits.
In fact, the think-tank estimates that “Half of the supply in new LNG projects is unneeded and very little new capacity will be needed in the US and Canada in a 2 degree scenario.”
LNG exports are simply too dirty to be a part of the low- and zero-emissions solutions that we need to avert the most disastrous impacts of climate change.
By embracing and promoting the LNG industrial complex, our politicians and business leaders are chaining the Rio Grande Valley to a dying industry, one that would make the Valley a part of the climate change problem, rather than a region that contributes to climate solutions.
The Rio Grande Valley is a frontline community threatened by the worst ills of climate disruption—coastal flooding due to sea level rise and stronger tropical storms, as well as record-setting heat waves and extreme drought. In addition to the human suffering these calamities could bring, they could also have severe impacts on our economy.
Investing in the carbon-intensive LNG industry would be fundamentally self-destructive, like someone diagnosed with lung cancer taking up smoking.
As a community we need to demand that our leaders stop ignoring climate change and reject the LNG industrial complex.
That’s why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club invites the public to join us Sunday, December 6 at 2:00 pm at the Cameron County People’s Climate March at Washington Park in Brownsville. For more information see the Cameron County People’s Climate March on Facebook.
Stefanie Herweck serves on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2015
Contact: Jim Chapman, firstname.lastname@example.org (956) 571-0545
BROWNSVILLE, Texas—Annova LNG has publicly claimed that the liquefied natural gas export terminal that it has proposed for the Brownsville Ship Channel will bring scores of high-paying jobs to an economically depressed region. But in documents that Annova filed with the state of Texas in an attempt to dramatically slash the taxes it will pay on its facilities, they paint a very different picture.
Over the summer Annova submitted an application for an Appraised Value Limitation under Chapter 313 of the Texas Economic Development Act, which would artificially cap the taxable value of their facility far below its actual value, significantly reducing the taxes that they will pay each year. This is a state incentive program that is meant to “create new, high-paying jobs in this state” by luring companies that might otherwise go to another state. (see excerpt from application attached)
In Annova’s application, their response to the question “What is the number of new qualifying jobs you are committing to create?”:
The annual wage that they commit to pay those 10 employees? $36,197.72.
On the application Annova also commits to create 80 “non-qualifying” jobs. A non-qualifying job could be a contractor or vendor, or less than full-time, or a position paying less than qualifying jobs, but Annova does not provide any information about them.
Ten jobs, or even 90 jobs if you include non-qualifying jobs, fall far short of the number Annova has been promising as they try to win support from politicians, chambers of commerce and EDCs. And the salary they list on the application is half that of what they have been publicizing.
In fact, the very same month that Annova submitted its application for a tax break Annova’s president, David Chung, wrote in the Monitor that “once operational, the terminal would employ up to 165 workers at a base wage of $70,000.”
“Annova tells us that this will be an employment bonanza when they need public support, but when they have to commit in writing, the number of promised new jobs drops to less than a Whataburger franchise,” says Stefanie Herweck of Save RGV from LNG, a broad coalition opposed to the projects. “The RGV needs real, sustainable jobs, not Annova’s smoke and mirrors.”
Under the Appraised Value Limitation and Tax Credit program Annova hopes to cap the taxable value of its $2.9 billion facility at $25 million, or less than 1% of the amount invested. Annova’s application packet includes a report on the benefits that they claim they will bring to the state, including, they say, $34,389,000 per year in state and local taxes. But in a footnote they admit that that figure does not take into account this massive reduction in the taxable value of their facility.
“The tax revenue that the Port Isabel School District loses out on from Annova will be paid instead through the Texas School Fund, meaning by all the taxpayers of Texas. Some call it an incentive, but it is really a shameless give-away of taxpayer dollars to a huge company that can well afford to pay its full taxes, just like the rest of us do. Why should we subsidize an industrial facility that will endanger our communities, pollute our air, and undermine our tourism economy?” asks Jim Chapman, Chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.
“Annova and the other LNG export terminals will be a huge blight, ruining the clear skies and natural beauty that are the drivers of our existing economy. Whether they create 10 jobs or 165, whether they pay their taxes or not, LNG is not worth the cost,” Save RGV from LNG’s Herweck asserted. “And if we cannot trust these companies to be honest, we would be fools to hitch the future of our communities, our children’s health and the world that they will grow up in, to their promises.”
The job numbers revelations come as the group Save RGV from LNG, a coalition of groups and individuals opposed the LNG complex, hosts a community meeting in McAllen today, Monday, August 31 at 6:00 pm at the Historic Cine El Rey Theatre, and as the Laguna Vista and South Padre Island city governments consider resolutions to oppose the LNG export terminal projects on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Save RGV from LNG is a coalition of Rio Grande Valley residents who have come together to oppose the construction of liquefied natural gas export terminals near Port Isabel and South Padre Island. For more information please visit www.savergvfromlng.com
The Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club works to preserve human health and the environment in south Texas from Laredo to South Padre Island. Please visit www.valleygreenspace.blogspot.com
 Annova’s application can be viewed at http://www.texasahead.org/tax_programs/chapter313/applicants/
 Chapter 313 of the Texas state tax code: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/TX/htm/TX.313.htm
 David Chung. “Explaining LNG projects in Brownsville Port.“ The Monitor. June 24, 2015. http://www.themonitor.com/opinion/commentary-explaining-lng-projects-in-brownsville-port/article_9b48594c-193f-11e5-8be6-fb71c3391c36.html
The Sierra Club has learned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will host a scoping hearing on August 11 regarding the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities that have been proposed for the Brownsville Ship Channel. The hearing will run from 1pm until 8pm at the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center and is open to the public.
It is critical that concerned South Texas residents attend the August 11 meeting and submit comments.
In a highly unusual move, FERC has decided to hold a single scoping meeting for all three of the LNG facilities that have filed so far – Annova LNG, Texas LNG, and Rio Grande LNG (formerly called Next Decade LNG). Normally separate projects would go through the FERC permitting process separately, and FERC has said that each will be required to develop its own Environmental Impact Statement in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. The three projects will have different sized footprints (though all will be in sensitive, irreplaceable ecosystems); they will handle and export different amounts of natural gas; they will use different technologies to purify and super-cool the gas; and only one has discussed plans for the pipeline that will bring gas to it. Holding a combined meeting for all three is certain to sow confusion in the general public.
The Sierra Club has submitted pre-filing comments laying out some key concerns about these three projects:
While these are three separate projects, the Sierra Club identified a number of negative impacts that are common to all of them. As pointed out in its comments on Next Decade LNG, these include:
“[All three LNG export facilities] will receive via pipeline from the Eagle Ford fracking wells will only be around 91% or 92% pure methane. To supercool it for export they need to get that gas to well over 99% pure. So they will be refining the gas before they refrigerate it, taking out impurities including carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and mercury. Some of these toxins will be released into the environment. VOCs such as benzene and toluene are powerful carcinogens and neurotoxins. The only safe level is zero. It is therefore critical that residents know the quantities of these toxins that will be emitted, should the plant be approved, and an air monitoring regime be established. The prevailing wind will carry the emitted carcinogenic compounds, along with substances that trigger asthma attacks, straight to nearby Laguna Heights, and to Port Isabel’s schools.”
“[All three LNG export facilities] will be built less than 3 miles from the Wal-Mart in Port Isabel, and about 3 miles south of the Port Isabel Junior High and High School. If there is a breach of either the LNG facility or an LNG tanker there is the potential for the release of a vapor cloud, which in the proper concentration could travel for miles before igniting and burning too intensely for first responders to extinguish. For this reason Sandia National Laboratories has recommended a 2.2-mile outer hazard zone LNG tanker ships. Chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens recommends a 3-mile hazard zone.”
“[All three LNG export facilities] would fill wetlands and destroy mangroves to prepare the site for its export facility. Wetlands are critical nurseries for fish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, and other aquatic life that are important both ecologically and commercially. They also filter runoff and prevent coastal erosion, which reduces turbidity and improves the cleanliness of the water.”
“The industrialization and pollution that [all three LNG facilites] will bring could erode important economic drivers such as commercial fishing, shrimping, and beach and nature tourism. Thousands of jobs here in the Rio Grande Valley depend on clean air, clean water and high quality fish and wildlife habitat.”
There are many, many more impacts, and the scale of the damage varies from project to project. If one or all of these are built they will inflict tremendous, permanent damage upon the Lower Rio Grande Valley, transforming not only the area around Port Isabel and South Padre Island from places that focus on commercial and sport fishing, beach and nature tourism to polluted industrial zones, but with the dramatic increase in frack wells and pipelines that will feed them transforming the entire region for the worse.
This is why we must all come out and express our concerns about the severe impacts that these projects will have, and ensure that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not rubber stamp them.
Posted in Climate change, Conservation in the Valley, Environmentalism in the Valley, Gulf Coast, Human Health, LNG Production and Export Terminals, Pollution, Texas Environmental Issues, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »
It would be hard to imagine a project more damaging than NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export terminal near Port Isabel, the largest of the five LNG export terminals proposed for the Brownsville ship channel.
The 1,000-acre industrial complex would be among the largest LNG terminals in the United States and would sprawl along Highway 48 from Brownsville to Port Isabel for two and a half miles.
Four 17-story high LNG storage tanks would tower over six enormous natural gas liquefaction “trains”—block mazes of pipes that stretch for hundreds of yards. At only six miles from South Padre Island, the plant would be an industrial blight on the horizon for residents and tourists alike, threatening property values and nature and beach tourism industries that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and support thousands of jobs.
NextDecade’s plans call for two 300-megawatt gas-fired power plants built onsite to power their operations in addition to two gas-fired turbines within each liquefaction train. This is an astounding amount of energy produced and consumed. In fact, Rio Grande LNG dwarfs Brownsville Public Utility’s Silas Ray Power Plant in its power production and use and, operating at full capacity, could rival the new Tenaska Brownsville 800-megawatt power plant.
But Valley residents will be getting none of the energy and all of the pollution.
Although NextDecade has not reported the pollution they expect Rio Grande LNG to emit, we can easily estimate it based on the expected emissions report by Sabine Pass LNG, another equally large six-train export terminal near Port Arthur that is under construction. Rio Grande LNG could pump out 5,790 tons per year of nitrogen oxides—the chemicals that give smog its brown color and cause respiratory irritation. That’s 300 times more than Brownsville’s Silas Ray power plant emits. It could spew 8,837 tons per year of poisonous carbon monoxide, which is especially harmful to pregnant women and their fetuses. That’s a 15 percent increase in overall carbon monoxide pollution in Cameron County.
We also could expect 305 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year. VOCs such as benzene and toluene are powerful carcinogens and neurotoxins. The only safe level is zero. Significant emissions of particulate matter and sulfur dioxide are also associated with a plant of this size.
Residents would also be forced to accept the risk of this inherently dangerous fuel. LNG is dangerous because it is such a concentrated source of fuel, and the Rio Grande LNG export terminal will be storing and shipping so much of it. In the event of a spill LNG evaporates and can form a flammable vapor cloud that can drift along the ground for miles before igniting. LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach, and the fires must burn themselves out.
Rio Grande LNG will also use fuels such as propane and ethylene in the refrigeration process to cool the gas, and these are even more volatile than the methane itself.
NextDecade will send out an estimated six to seven fully-loaded LNG carrier ships each week which will pass within a third of a mile of crowded Isla Blanca Beach and within one mile of Schlitterbahn, putting the county park and water park in the high- and medium-hazard zones developed by Sandia National Laboratories in the case of an intentional breach. Rio Grande LNG’s liquefied natural gas terminal will be built just 2.7 miles from Port Isabel. This is just outside Sandia’s 2.2-mile outer hazard zone, but it violates the three-mile hazard zone recommended by chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens.
The risks to the public do not end there. The Rio Grande LNG plant would be fed by NextDecade’s new 139-mile long double pipeline with pipes 42 inches in diameter, which would bring natural gas from outside of Corpus Christi through the ranchlands, the Valley and along Highway 48. Along the route, they would build two additional compressor stations to keep the pipeline gas at high pressures. According to the company, this pipe will slice through land owned by 150 families, who will be forced to make way for the double pipeline and its 120-foot right-of-way or have their property condemned under eminent domain.
The gas in these pipelines will not be odorized, making leaks difficult to detect by the public and putting more people at risk. And Texas is sorely lacking in state pipeline inspectors. The Railroad Commission, charged with pipeline safety in Texas, says that it does not have enough inspectors to ensure pipeline safety in the state.
Rio Grande LNG would have harmful effects on wildlife, too. The site’s position between the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge makes it a key component of the wildlife corridor, a decades-long project to connect the Valley’s few remaining areas of habitat. The noise, lights, and activity of the facility would impede wildlife travel, including that of the endangered ocelot, far beyond the terminal’s boundaries.
Over half of the proposed terminal site is made up of wetlands, areas that act as marine nurseries to support fishing stocks. These are so valuable that they are protected by the Clean Water Act. But this protection is limited because the Army Corps of Engineers will allow Next Decade to “mitigate,” often by attempting to recreate or remediate wetlands elsewhere. Such trades are regularly criticized by ecologists who note that the many functions of natural wetlands are not so easily replaced.
“In LNG, everything is big,” according to Kathleen Eisenbrenner, the CEO of NextDecade LNG, and in fact, her Rio Grande LNG project is enormous—a monster that threatens to consume everything that is good about our coastal Texas home—our clean air, our security, and our natural fish and wildlife habitats.