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Archive for the ‘LNG Production and Export Terminals’ Category

billOver 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.

            Sierra Club member Stefanie Herweck presented a dispatch from Lusby, Maryland where people are fighting the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal (currently being litigated by Sierra Club).  Stefanie visited the community last month and was able to interview many residents and activists, as well as see the terminal under construction. The Cove Point terminal is being built in a densely populated area, across the street from residential homes, even though the industry standard has required that LNG export terminals be built at least three miles from populated areas.  Despite the dangers of long term pollution from the gas-fired generators and catastrophic vapor cloud explosions, the agency in charge of permitting LNG export terminals, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), went ahead and approved Cove Point LNG and put thousands of people at serious risk.
           Stefanie made the point that if FERC would rubberstamp such an egregious project, they would certainly ignore the health and safety issues posed by the Port of Brownsville projects.  Those proposed export terminals don’t meet the long-time industry standard for remote siting either.  Texas LNG plans to build its terminal within two miles of Port Isabel and within three miles of Laguna Vista, putting those towns in the evacuation zone.  A three-mile evacuation zone would also close Highway 100, which is the only route off of South Padre Island.
          Stefanie said that the health and safety risks of the LNG industrial complex would be unacceptable and urged the audience to fight them.
           Afterward, Sierran Bill Berg presented a timeline of the Save RGV from LNG campaign with some great photos of many of our events and victories so far, and LRGV Sierra Club president Jim Chapman went over the regulatory process and discussed the effort to recruit people who could file motions to intervene with FERC.  Filing a motion to intervene makes you an official stakeholder.  People who may suffer materially from the LNG export terminals and pipeline may file for intervenor status.  We encourage people who are concerned about how LNG will impact their businesses or property values to file online with FERC as intervenors.  (For more information contact rebekah.hinojosa@sierraclub.org)
            Finally, our new organizer Rebekah divided people into groups for a brainstorm about how we can participate in the Earth Day festivities in Brownsville.  The consensus that developed was to have a No LNG March.  Stay tuned for an invitation for Saturday, April 23!
            The campaign kickoff was a great momentum-building experience for everyone involved, and it will be exciting to see what the next stage in the Save RGV from LNG campaign will bring.

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Gas-Flare_featuredBY 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.

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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.

Map showing the basins and approximate locations of LNG leases.

Map showing the basins and approximate locations of LNG leases.

The Sierra Club has submitted pre-filing comments laying out some key concerns about these three projects:

Sierra Club – Annova LNG FERC comments

Sierra Club – Texas LNG FERC comments

Sierra Club – Next Decade LNG FERC comments

 

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.

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fast-track-tpp

By Scott Nicol

The White House has been pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which it calls “the most progressive trade agreement in history.”  But rather than increasing protections for working Americans and the environment, the TPP undermines U.S. labor and environmental laws.

The U.S. Senate, including Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz, recently voted to give President Obama “fast track authority” to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership in secret, with no public or Congressional input.

The Rio Grande Valley’s U.S. Representatives Hinojosa and Vela have said that they oppose fast track, and they deserve applause for taking that stance.

But Representative Cuellar recently penned an op-ed arguing in favor of TPP, saying “I have been a strong supporter of this partnership.”  And when fast track came up for a vote Cuellar was one of just a handful of Democrats who voted for it.

Instead of shilling for multinational oil and gas corporations, Representative Cuellar should stand up for the working men and women who elected him, and air they breathe and the water they drink, and work to defeat “fast track” in the U.S. House.

More than 600 “corporate advisors,” representing multi-national corporations, have been involved in writing the TPP, but the general public has not been allowed to see what they have written.  Members of Congress who read it can be prosecuted if they reveal its contents to the American public.

If this is such a great deal why aren’t we allowed to see it?

Last year a draft version was leaked, and its provisions would undermine workers, the environment, and the rule of law in the United States.

The TPP would allow private foreign corporations to sue sovereign nations for cash compensation, and to overturn any law that they claim would cut into their “expected future profits.”

For example, the Clean Air Act limits the amount of mercury, benzene, and other hazardous pollutants that a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal can emit upwind from an elementary school.  But if that proposed LNG terminal is owned by a company from a TPP country, that company could sue the United States to overturn the law rather than limit its emissions.

Texas LNG, which wants to build an LNG export terminal less than two miles outside of Port Isabel, is partly owned by Samsung.  Samsung is headquartered in South Korea, and South Korea will likely sign on to the TPP.

Multi-national corporations could also sue to overturn worker safety regulations that were intended to prevent their employees from being injured or poisoned on the job on the grounds that they incur cost, and therefore cut into “expected future profits.”

The ability of locals to have a say in whether an LNG export terminal is built in their community would also be curtailed.  Currently the Department of Energy must determine whether or not a proposed LNG export terminal is in the public interest before it can be built.  TPP would grant them automatic approval if their owners claim that the gas was destined for a country that has signed the treaty.

This is why Representatives Hinojosa and Vela have said that they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why Representative Cuellar should as well.

Under current law the deck is already stacked in these facilities’ favor.  We should strengthen protections for workers and communities, not allow foreign corporations to overrule U.S. sovereignty and sweep away U.S. laws.

Representative Cuellar should reverse course and oppose “fast track” and the larger Trans Pacific Partnership, and fight to preserve laws that protect workers from injury and children from pollution.

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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

Texas LNG Comment form

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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

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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. 

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