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Putting Port Isabel in the Evacuation Zone

Texas LNG’s liquefied natural gas plant will be built less than 2 miles from Port Isabel. This is within the 2.2-mile outer hazard zone developed by Sandia National Laboratories for LNG tanker ships.[1] And it violates the 3-mile hazard zone recommended by chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens.[2]  A March 2014 explosion at a smaller LNG plant in Washington State forced an evacuation of hundreds of people within a two-mile radius. Luckily the fire burned itself out and the LNG did not ignite, but a local fire chief noted that if it had, everyone within three-quarters of a mile would have been killed.[3]

LNG Processing and Transport Is Inherently Risky

Texas LNG’s storage tanks will be holding enormous quantities of natural gas, so in the event of an accident or intentional breach, the results could be catastrophic.  When LNG is spilled it quickly converts back into a gas and forms a flammable vapor cloud that can drift for some distance. If the cloud encounters an ignition source it will burn back to the LNG spill.  LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach.[4]  The LNG refrigeration process also uses fuels such as propane and ethylene to cool the gas, and these are even more volatile than methane.

Fouling the Air of Our Coastal Communities

Because the pipeline quality natural gas requires further refining before undergoing the liquefaction process, the Texas LNG will produce emissions such as cancer-causing volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide.  The prevailing winds in the area blow out of the south southeast.  This means that more often than not, any released will be blowing across the homes, businesses and schools along Highway 100.

No Economic Boon for South Texas

South Korea will get the bulk of the skilled construction jobs not South Texas, because Texas LNG intends to build the liquefaction facility in South Korea and ship it to the Port of Brownsville on a barge.[5] The Cameron County Commission is also expected to grant a ten-year tax abatement for all LNG companies, ensuring that all of Texas LNG’s profits will go to distant shareholders instead of local schools, fire departments and roads.

 LNG Threatens Our Existing Jobs

The massive industrialization and pollution that LNG 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.

Texas LNG will build two storage tanks that will each be 150 feet tall, sitting on a 15 foot high foundation.  These will be lit up all night long, and the flare stack that rises above them will periodically belch flames.  This will be visible for miles around, including the causeway and South Padre Island’s hotels.  People travel from all over Texas and the Midwest to visit our island paradise.  Will they continue to do so when the area is as industrialized as Corpus Christi?

Loss of Critical Habitat for Fish and Wildlife

The Texas LNG site contains numerous wetlands that will be filled in, as well as starkly beautiful coastal prairie and dense brush that will be bulldozed and paved over.  Its pollution, bright lights and heavy traffic will also degrade Bahia Grande, the largest wetlands restoration project in North America and an important aquatic nursery.

More Dangerous and Dirty Fracking

The Energy Information Agency estimates that 60 percent to 80 percent of U.S. gas exports will come from a ramp-up of production.[6] Three-quarters of that new production would come from shale through horizontal drilling and fracking. Building LNG terminals in the Port of Brownsville would therefore lead to a tremendous increase in fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale region, with devastating consequences. Already rural south Texas is being transformed into an industrial zone. Scarce Texas water resources are being depleted, and in some instances permanently contaminated, and the pollution associated with fracking is making people sick.[7] Increased seismic activity has followed the expansion of fracking, and is increasingly being linked to fracking in general and injection wells in particular.

[1] “Guidance on Risk Analysis and Safety Implications of a Large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Spill Over Water.” Sandia National Laboratories, Dec 2004.

[2] Ted Sickinger. “Gas explosion at LNG facility in Washington prompts concerns about proposed export terminals in Oregon.” The Oregonian, 1 Apr 2014.

[3] Kristi Pihl, “Evacuation Area Near Plant to Be Reduced.” Tri-City Herald. 31 March 2014.

[4] “Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Import Terminals: Siting, Safety and Regulation.” Congressional Research Service, 27 May 2004.

[5] “Texas LNG Overview Greenfield Barge-based LNG Liquefaction & Export Project” Slideshow.txlng.com. Dec 2013.

[6] U.S. Energy Information Agency, “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets,” Janhttp://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/fe/pdf/fe_lng.pdf

[7]  Jim Morris, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer, “Big Oil and Bad Air: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of SouthTexas,” Center for Public Integrity and the Weather Channel, 18 Feb 2014.

Printable Version of this factsheet

Annova LNG is proposing to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal in the Port of Brownsville.  They are hosting an “Open House” about the project tonight from 4 to 7 pm at the Brownsville Events Center.  Here are some images from the site and some important facts to know.

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The Worst Possible Place for Heavy Industry

The land Annova LNG has leased encompasses 650 acres of the Loma Ecological Preserve.  Lomas on the preserve have been called “miniature Galapagos Islands”[1] and are such critical wildlife habitat that until recently Annova’s LNG terminal site was leased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife as a part of the wildlife corridor. In 1998 an ocelot was documented in this area as it crossed the ship channel traveling north. The ship channel presents no obstacle to the endangered cats, but the bright lights and noise of the LNG plant will prevent them from moving back and forth between the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The Annova site contains numerous wetlands that will be filled in, as well as starkly beautiful coastal prairie and dense brush that will be bulldozed and paved over.  It’s also directly across from the Bahia Grande, the largest wetlands restoration project in North America. Annova plans to dredge a turning basin and widen the ship channel in front of the Bahia Grande Restoration Channel. Dredging increases turbidity and can stir up toxic sediments.

Already On Track to Be the Largest Polluter in Cameron County

Annova LNG has not reported their expected air pollution emissions, but we know that all liquefied natural gas export terminals are major sources of hazardous air pollutants.  We can roughly estimate the level of Annova LNG’s pollution by comparing its planned production capacity with that of other LNG export terminals currently under construction in the U.S. [2]

The emissions associated with Annova LNG’s .93 billion cubic feet per day production of LNG:

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) 1209 tons per year  67 times what the Silas Ray Power Plant produces
Carbon Monoxide (CO) 1860 tons per year  People with heart disease are especially susceptible.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 60 tons per year  Carcinogens and neurotoxins: There is no safe level of VOCs.
Greenhouse Gases (GHG) 1.7 million tons per year  35 times the carbon footprint of the Silas Ray power plant
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 4 tons per year  Causes acid rain which could harm nearby marine environments
Particulate Matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) 78 tons per year  Cameron County already has high levels of particulates

A Record of Pollution

Annova LNG is owned by Exelon, the same company which owns the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant. In 2006, it was revealed that Exelon had failed to report multiple instances of radioactive tritium leaking into the groundwater during a decade of operating the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois.[3] In 2010 they paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits arising from over two dozen leaks of tritium at three Illinois nuclear power plants.[4]

LNG Threatens Our Existing Jobs

The massive industrialization and pollution that LNG 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.  The lights and fiery flare stack will light up the sky within sight of South Padre Island’s beachfront hotels and condos, and the smog-producing emissions will foul the air.  Those are not the sights and smells that draw tourists.

LNG Processing and Transport Is Inherently Risky

When LNG is spilled it evaporates and can form a flammable vapor cloud that can drift for some distance. If the cloud encounters an ignition source it will burn back to the LNG spill.  LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach.  A March 2014 explosion at an LNG plant in Washington State forced an evacuation of hundreds of people within a two-mile radius. Fortunately the fire burned itself out and the LNG did not ignite, but a local fire chief noted that if it had, everyone within three-quarters of a mile would have been killed.[5] The LNG refrigeration process also uses fuels such as propane and ethylene to cool the gas, and these are much more volatile than methane.

Annova LNG Will Not Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

Annova LNG’s parent company has opposed the Federal Wind Production Tax Credit, saying that, “Exelon has long believed that there is no need to promote subsidies for proven technologies,”[6] but that has not stop Annova LNG from seeking to avoid paying local taxes.  The Cameron County Commission is considering a significant tax abatement, ensuring that all of Annova LNG’s profits will go to distant shareholders instead of local schools, fire departments and roads.

Download a PDF of this factsheet:

Annova LNG–Pave Paradise and Put up an LNG Plan

Send a comment to FERC:

FERC Comment Guide for Annova LNG

FERC Comment Form Annova LNG

[1] Richard C. Bartlett. Saving the Best of Texas. University of Texas Press, 1995.

[2] Based on published emissions estimates for Sabine Pass LNG: Sabine Pass Liquefaction LLC et al., FERC DKT. PF13-8, Draft Resource Report 9 at 11-12, Table 9.2-10. http://www.cheniere.com/CQP_documents/SPLQ%2011-15- 10_FERC%20draft_resource_reports_2%20_thru_9.pdf

[3] “ Madigan, Glasgow File Suit For Radioactive Leaks At Braidwood Nuclear Plant” Illinois Attorney General’s Office, 16 Mar 2006. http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2006_03/20060316.html

[4] “Attorney General Madigan / State’s Attorneys Reach Agreement with Exelon on Nuclear Power Safety.” Illinois Attorney General’s Office, March 11, 2010.  http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2010_03/20100311.html

[5] Kristi Pihl, “Evacuation Area Near Plant to Be Reduced.” Tri-City Herald. 31 March 2014. http://www.tricityherald.com/2014/03/31/2904040/natural-gas-facility-on-fire-near.html

[6] “Exelon’s Public Policy Positions.”  http://www.exeloncorp.com/performance/policypositions/overview.aspx

env studies

BY DR. LYNN VINCENTNATHAN

Our UTPA/UTRGV Environmental Studies Program came about, appropriately enough, organically.  When I attended a campus webinar on sustainability in the fall of 2009, I discovered that several other faculty in attendance had also been teaching environmental-related courses in diverse programs across campus.  We got together right afterwards and realized that together we may have enough environmental courses across the curriculum to start an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Minor.  So what that webinar did was bring about an exhilarating fusion of faculty bent on making a difference by promoting environmental literacy.

The importance of a program in Environmental Studies is enormous, since it is humans who are causing environmental problems, who are affected by them (not to mention others of our ecological community), and who need to address them.  Environmental issues are social science, humanities, health and welfare, and business issues, just as much as they are science issues.  Collectively our initially tiny group had that expertise to bring it together – or at least we were determined to develop that expertise by finding other environmentally-conscientious faculty across campus willing to develop environmental courses in their fields.  What is needed in our society, we felt, is a deep and holistic understanding of the environment’s profound role in our lives and our profound role in the environment.  This knowledge is for everyone in all professions and spheres of live, not only for scientists.

By Fall 2011 we started our Environmental Studies Minor.  In addition our dedicated and creative Environmental Studies Committee has been hosting guest speakers, Earth Day events, and environmental films for the whole campus and the larger RGV community.  Last year we had our first Environmental Studies Symposium in late October, drawing a huge audience.  We plan on having our second one this Fall.

Our list of courses keeps on growing and slowly but surely our enrollment in the minor is growing.  Some UTPA administrators have made it a point to hire faculty who can teach environmental studies.  Now with the UTPA-UTB merger, we are bringing in environmental studies courses at the Brownsville campus, such as the English elective, “Living, Reading, Writing Nature in Costa Rica,” and helping to start others.

Next year we plan to propose an Environmental Studies Major and perhaps some small graduate programs – a graduate certificate in Environmental Studies and a minor “course cluster” for the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies.  For more information about our programs and events go to www.utpa.edu/env_studies.

Would you like to support our efforts to grow our UTRGV Environmental Studies Program and educate our students for a world in which environmental understanding is increasing critical?  You can donate to the program or to the Environmental Studies scholarship fund here.

BY STEFANIE HERWECK

IMG_7283The first thing we noticed was the smell, slightly sulphur at first, as we were driving into town.  As we got closer the air took on an acidity that we could feel in our eyes and taste on our tongues.

When we arrived on the west side of Port Arthur we didn’t just smell the pollution, we saw a sickly brown stripe across the sky streaking its way over the marshes and beach to the south.

There are refineries here, including Motiva, the largest oil refinery in the nation, smack up against neighborhoods. There are piles of coke and coke-fired power plants belching black smoke.  The Veolia incinerator is here burning, among other things, toxins which were manufactured for Syrian chemical weapons.

The combined emissions from these sources mean that cancer mortality rates in Port Arthur are 25 percent higher than the state average.  Long-term exposure to a stew of chemicals punctuated by intense individual releases that trigger warnings has wreaked havoc on the families who live in West Port Arthur.  And the oil and gas industry here hasn’t been an economic boon to the residents—more than a quarter live in poverty.

This is a sacrifice zone.

Like many other areas along the Gulf Coast, and inland in the shale gas frack zones, Port Arthur has been given over to the fossil fuel industry.  The air and water, along with the health and safety of the residents, have all been sacrificed for big oil and gas.

Petrochemicals and profits are shipped out.  Pollution and poverty remain.

As we passed over the ship channel bridge, the latest industry conquest loomed on the horizon.  Across the Sabine River which divides Texas from Louisiana, cranes moved like an insect’s legs around Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG facility.  The plant was originally built to be an import facility, but when the practice of hydrofracking increased domestic gas supplies and drove prices down, Cheniere began the process of converting Sabine Pass into an export terminal.

trains

The Sabine Pass LNG refrigeration “trains” under construction. When construction is complete six trains will purify and liquefy up to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas that is piped to the facility. You can see the 377-foot flare in the center of the photo.

The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas.  That's a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.

The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas. That’s a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.

tanker

We found the LNG tanker Methane Rita Andrea already berthed at Sabine Pass.

The best view of the 1,000-acre Sabine Pass LNG facility is from the Texas side of the river, as tall impoundments obscure much of the plant on the Louisiana side.  They look like the levees that line the Rio Grande, but instead of blocking the advance of flood waters they were raised to corral a pool of liquefied natural gas or other flammable liquids should there be an accidental release.  LNG is extremely hazardous, because once ignited, it burns so hot that firefighters cannot approach, and people a mile or more away must be evacuated due to the risk of deadly thermal radiation.

When construction is completed later this year, the plant will purify and then liquefy fracked gas by cooling it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, which condenses it down to 1/600th of its volume.  The liquefied gas will be loaded onto ships for export to countries where gas prices are higher.  When all six of its refrigeration “trains” are complete, the facility will be capable of exporting 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of LNG.

Mercury, carbon dioxide, sulphur and water will be removed from the gas in these scaffold-like “trains.”  Propane, ethylene, and the methane itself will be used as “cryogens” to cool the gas.  Because natural gas is continually warming and “boiling off,” Cheniere will relieve pressure by intermittently burning excess gas from a flare tower 377 feet tall.

Cheniere is not the source of the toxic soup that Port Arthur’s residents currently breathe, of course, because the facility is not yet online.  But when it begins shipping gas it will add smog and carcinogens to the mix.  In fact, in its environmental assessment documents, Cheniere reports that the facility will be a major source of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulates, and greenhouse gases.

The Brownsville Navigation District is currently courting 5 proposed liquefied natural gas export facilities that, if built, would line the Brownsville ship channel just outside of Port Isabel.

Together their expected output could be as much as or greater than Sabine Pass LNG, which means that they could emit similar levels of toxins, including 5,790 tons of nitrogen oxides, 8,837 tons of carbon monoxide, and 305 tons of volatile organic compounds each year.  All three of these will have serious impacts on human health.  They could also emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases, and pump ton after ton of smog-causing, asthma-attack-inducing particulates into the air.

By inviting these LNG facilities into the Rio Grande Valley, we are sacrificing the very air that we breathe.

We may also be sacrificing our existing economy.  Imagine how the sight of burning flares amid a brown cloud will impact tourism on the island.  Will people still come here to go birding when the air burns their throat?

And when those “clean” economic drivers decline, will we, like Port Arthur, court dirtier and dirtier industries to fill the void?

We have seen in Port Arthur that fossil fuel companies do not make good neighbors.  They will transform Brownsville, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island, both through direct emissions of toxins and smog, and indirectly, as our economy and quality of life come to mirror Port Arthur’s.  And as fracking to feed these export facilities ramps up in South Texas and Northern Mexico, they will have a similar, devastating effect on our region.

Valley residents have a choice: we can stand up for our clean air and reject the LNG export facilities, or we can become the next sacrifice zone for big oil and gas.

Concerned citizens are meeting regularly in Brownsville and in McAllen to fight LNG. Find out more at Save RGV from LNG on Facebook or email lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com. 

BY STEFANIE HERWECK

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The Bahia Grande or “Big Bay” between Brownsville and Port Isabel, Texas was once the center of a vast coastal wetland and prairie habitat.  Its waters were an important nursery for aquatic life, and its islands supported flocks of breeding shorebirds. Birds of prey used the skies above to hunt songbirds flitting through the grasslands.

When the Brownsville ship channel was carved into the shoreline beginning in the 1930s, the bay was cut off from Gulf waters and dried up. Any fish that were able to survive there during wet years were subject to mass die-offs when the unreplenished waters evaporated. Dust from the dry bay bottom was picked up by winds and sandblasted the vegetation off the surrounding prairie, which meant fewer birds. The same dust caused terrible sandstorms in nearby Port Isabel that affected people’s health.

A restoration project for the Bahia finally began in 2005.  A channel was dug from the Brownsville ship channel that allowed the Bahia to flood. Some tidal flow was restored in 2007 when the Bahia was connected to smaller basins–the Laguna Larga and the Little Laguna Madre.  At 22,000 acres, the restoration project is the largest in North America, and was undertaken by a partnership of more than 65 groups.

The restoration is ongoing.  There is still not enough tidal flow through the basins and the salinity is unnaturally high, so more and larger flow channels are in the works.  In 2013, encroaching brush was removed from the prairie to make better habitat for bird species, in particular the endangered Northern aplomado falcon and its prey.

The aplomado is the centerpiece species of the Bahia Grande, and it’s at the center of yet another restoration story. Aplomado falcon numbers plummeted in the early part of the 20th century due mainly to habitat loss, and 1952 saw the last breeding pair in the United States.  The species was federally listed as endangered in 1986. Recovery efforts through the 1990s and 2000s included a captive breeding program that released more than 1,500 birds, and currently more than 30 breeding pairs have been documented in South Texas.

The coming of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to the Bahia Grande neighborhood could bring an abrupt end to these stories of restoration, however. The Brownsville Navigation District has leased a site on the East boundary of the Bahia Grande Unit to Texas LNG, LLC, between the refuge and the City of Port Isabel. A second site has been leased across Highway 48 from the refuge by Next Decade LNG between the highway and the ship channel, and a third, that of Annova LNG, is located across the ship channel from the Bahia.  A fourth company has leased land further to the west. (See a map.)

These LNG companies intend to pipe large quantities of fracked gas across the Valley to these sites where it will be refined and cooled down to -260 degrees F in order to liquefy and condense it to 1/600th of its original volume.  The liquefied gas will then be piped onto enormous tankers in the ship channel and exported to Europe and in China where gas prices are higher and the companies can make higher profits.

The plants they propose to build adjacent to the Bahia Grande would pump out massive quantities of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gases. Large quantities of earth would have to be dredged to create turning basins for the ships and to fill in wetlands, and this could create runoff that interferes with the fragile flow of the Bahia Grande Unit’s basins.  Bright lights from the plants will flood the area at night disrupting sensitive wildlife.  Furthermore, each LNG facility will flare gas from a 200- to 500-foot tower, creating more pollution in the form of soot and unburned material, as well as posing an extreme hazard for birds.

The bottom line is that these heavy industrial complexes are fundamentally incompatible with the sensitive habitat and wildlife of the Bahia Grande.  If we are proud of the tremendous work that has gone into restoring the bay and into bringing the Northern aplomado falcon back from the brink, we need to oppose the LNG export terminals with all our might.

Members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club and the Save RGV from LNG citizens’ group took a tour of the Bahia Grande which is recorded in the slideshow above.

LNG report coverThe Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club issued a report on the environmental impacts of the five proposed liquified natural gas export terminals in the Port of Brownsville.  You can read it in full: LNG report

Four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals are slated for the Port of Brownsville, and the Brownsville Navigation District may grant leases for more. These plants will refine natural gas piped from the Eagle Ford Shale gas fields and then supercool it to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, so that it liquefies and condenses to 1/600th of its normal volume. This processing will make it possible to ship the gas overseas to Europe and China where gas prices are higher and companies can reap more profit.

LNG and the fracking boom which will fuel it have been touted by some of our elected officials as a new economic engine for the Rio Grande Valley, transforming the region into a “new Middle East.”  However, it will bring industrial pollution and the risk of disaster to the Rio Grande Valley on a scale we haven’t seen before:

  • LNG relies on an inherently risky technology, and disasters do occur.
  • Dangerous emissions will threaten the health of our most vulnerable citizens.
  • LNG facilities will emit tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change and sea level rise that threaten our coastal communities.
  • The export terminals’ proposed locations in undeveloped natural areas means a loss of essential wetland and upland habitat that could have grave consequences for marine and terrestrial wildlife species, including the endangered ocelot.
  • The environmental degradation caused by LNG could have serious impacts on the Rio Grande Valley’s vibrant industries of nature and beach tourism and commercial fishing.
  • LNG plants, with their fifty-foot-tall flares, bright lights, visible emissions and dust, will be a blight on our communities and degrade our quality of life.
  • Exporting natural gas will encourage the destructive practice of fracking that is already damaging the environment and human health in other south Texas communities.
  • Analysts have determined that exporting natural gas will raise domestic gas prices which in turn will cause home energy rates and prices for consumer goods to increase and will discourage U.S. manufacturing.

corpus-christi-petroleum-natural-gas-processing-plant-new

BY STEFANIE HERWECK

The first thing you notice are the roiling orange flames spewing out of slender pipes, creating a black smoke that dilutes into the brownish air above. Tall, soot-covered silos shoot skyward out of a maze of dirty pipes. In the foreground, squat tanks are marked with rust stains and posted with warning signs which you can just make out. There’s an acrid, chemical smell in the air, and your breathing instinctively becomes shallow.

You’re in Beaumont. You’re in Port Arthur. You’re near the Houston Ship Channel. Or you’re driving through Corpus Christi. And you’re trying to get out of there—to get past the unhealthy industrial hellscape of petrochemical plants as soon as you can.

If you’ve traveled through Texas’ other coastal cities, you’ve had this experience.   And if you’re like me, you probably thought to yourself, thank God I don’t live here.

Unfortunately, petrochemical plants like these could be coming to us here in the Valley. The Brownsville Navigation District has leased land for four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals which are now awaiting permits.  A fifth lease is reportedly in the works.

The terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville would first remove impurities from the gas and then supercool it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, so that it liquefies and condenses to 1/600th of its volume. The liquefied gas can then be loaded onto tanker ships bound for Europe and Asia.

These refining and refrigeration processes release harmful emissions that will pollute our air and water and put our most vulnerable populations—children and the elderly—at risk.

Although none of the LNG companies coming to the Port of Brownsville have released estimates of their expected emissions, we can calculate rough amounts of the pollutants they will emit by comparing them to a recent report on the expansion of Louisiana’s Sabine Pass LNG facility. Sabine Pass LNG’s expansion will allow it to process 1.4 billion cubic feet per day. Together, the four Brownsville LNG facilities awaiting permits have stated that they will process 5.6 billion cubic feet per day.

Sabine Pass LNG reports that with its expansion in place it will produce 1,820.83 tons per year of nitrogen oxides (NOx). If we assume similar emission rates for the Brownsville LNG projects, we can expect 7,296.33 tons per year of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxides make up the poisonous “brown cloud” that you see in large cities like Houston. They worsen asthma symptoms and damage lungs. They also contribute to acid rain and harm marine life. The amount the Brownsville facilities will emit is approximately equivalent to the total NOx emissions produced annually by all the vehicles in Cameron County.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2)is another contributor to acid rain, and the refineries can be expected to emit more than 24 tons per year, a 9% increase in the total Cameron County emissions of SO2.

Based on the Sabine Pass LNG expansion, the four LNG projects at the Port of Brownsville can also be expected to emit 362 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that contribute to smog and pollute water. Some, like benzene and toluene, are carcinogens. Indeed, a possible cancer cluster being investigated in the Barnett Shale region of north Texas has been linked to benzene emissions from nearby natural gas drilling.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poison produced when fossil fuels do not burn completely. It can be particularly harmful to pregnant women, fetuses and babies, and people with heart conditions. Using the Sabine Pass expansion as a guide, we can estimate that the Port of Brownsville operations will add 11,222 tons per year of carbon monoxide, an approximately 20% increase in Cameron County’s total annual CO emissions.

We can also expect the proposed LNG plants to emit 455 tons per year of particulate pollution, consisting of particles small enough to be inhaled. These cause respiratory problems and aggravate heart problems. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to particulates.

The Port of Brownsville’s LNG refineries will also pump out an estimated 10.1 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To put that in perspective, the EPA lists only two large-facility sources of GHG in Cameron County, the Silas Ray Power Plant and the Municipal Waste Dump. Together they produced 130, 815 tons of GHG in 2012. As a region that is on track to suffer potentially catastrophic impacts of drought, stronger storms and sea level rise from global warming, we should work to minimize, not supersize, our carbon footprint.

Politicians like Congressmen Vela and Cuellar have called LNG a windfall for the Rio Grande Valley. What they don’t talk about are the toxins that that wind will bring.

Instead of silently accepting their LNG sales pitch, we need to speak up and initiate a community conversation about what the coming of LNG could mean. Are we ready for the smoky flares and the brown clouds? Are we comfortable living and raising our children where poisons and carcinogens blow in the wind? Are we really willing to sacrifice our clean air and water?

It’s a momentous decision that we should all be involved in.

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