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Archive for the ‘Pollution’ Category

oil-train-blast-zoneBY JOHN YOUNG

The Port of Brownsville is bringing more health problems our way, along with more safety risks and more damage to local businesses and economies.

Centurion Terminals began construction on terminals in the port that will process a form of crude oil called condensate into diesel and naphtha, which will then be exported.

Centurion expects to receive two train loads of condensate a day. Each will be 120 rail tanker cars full of highly flammable condensate long. The emissions from the trains’ diesel engines will damage human health all along the line.

They carry no liability insurance, and if there is a derailment or fire they will need to clear an area ½ mile in every direction.

The condensate trains will run through neighborhoods in Raymondville, Harlingen, San Benito, Olmito, and Brownsville. None of these communities were given any prior notice. None of them have any say in any of this.

Centurion, the Port, the American Railroad Association, and Union Pacific don’t want to be bothered. They’ve provided the public with false reassurances and misleading answers.

Centurion claims that there will be only one train a week. But it is supposed to offload 160,000 barrels a day, an amount that translates to two trains a day. Centurion originally said about 120 cars per train but now says only 100. Operations were originally to start the 3rd Quarter of 2016, but now not until the summer of 2017.

They’re basically telling us that it’s not that big deal. Relax. The summer of 2017 is over a year away.

The American Railroad Association says railroad accidents have declined 45 percent since 2000. Fine. That says nothing about the health problems the diesel engines cause or the acceptability of the present rate of railroad accidents, and the lives lost, bodies broken, homes demolished, and so on, when accidents occur.

Union Pacific says it’s replacing wooden railroad ties with stronger concrete ties “in many areas” of the country. Here? Before the condensate trains start rolling through?

Union Pacific says it “regularly holds crude oil accident training for fire crews across the United States.” But here? Not yet.

And who’s supposed to pay for the training, special equipment, and public preparedness programs that should be put into place before the trains start rolling?

The Port and Centurion claim the operation will meet all federal rail safety standards. Those standards are inadequate. For example, they 1) don’t require the rail lines to carry liability insurance; 2) set no maximum length on trains (which can run a mile long); 3) don’t require regular rail line maintenance; 4) don’t speak to the increase in childhood deaths before age one from lung problems along diesel train routes or the increase in cancer rates along these routes; and 5) are to be phased in slowly over a ten year period.

Centurion says it will be using the newest, safest tanker cars. But even those experience side punctures at 12.3 mph, bulkhead breaches at 12 to 18 mph. The track speed limit is 50 mph.

Don’t we get to judge those standards ourselves to see if we want better here in the Rio Grande Valley?

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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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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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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.

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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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IMG_9289BY KAREN HOLLESCHAU

When the Exxon Valdez struck a reef on March 24, 1989, spilling at least 500,000 barrels of crude oil into pristine Prince William Sound in Alaska, the entire world took notice. I was a first-grade teacher just starting out in Weslaco. My little students and I read the newspaper and magazine articles about the spill and the ensuing clean-up efforts from our elementary classroom. The children were dismayed at the photos of the oil-drenched otters and birds in their Weekly Reader magazines. In Science, they attempted to wash oil from plush toys with Dawn dishwashing liquid to see if it really worked. It did.

My Uncle Jack had been a meteorologist in Valdez for many years. He described it to me as the most beautiful place in the world. The water was so clean and pure that he could see clear to the bottom.

The April 1989 Earth Day would soon be here, and the children were looking forward to a reading of The Lorax and baking, decorating (and eating) an Earth Day cake. We planned to pick up litter in a nearby park and have a picnic afterwards. It was a wonderful day. The children’s hopes were renewed. They believed that such a terrible thing as the oil spill would never happen again.

Then we received the announcement that the annual Just Say No to Drugs week-long activities would begin in two weeks. The culminating event would be a balloon release. Over one thousand bright red helium-filled balloons would be sent soaring over the skies of Weslaco. Coincidentally, (or was it?), my little students found some pictures in a National Geographic Magazine of sea turtles and seals being strangled by plastic six-pack rings and choked by balloons that had been floating in the sea.

Once again, the children were dismayed and hurt, even tearful to such a degree that I had to remove the pictures from the magazine. They wanted to take action. The most timely and easiest idea was to make posters that would educate the rest of the student body, teachers and administrators about what can happen when balloons end up in the ocean. Poster-making became the focal point of every day. The energy and excitement in the classroom was palpable. Children who were not ordinarily interested in academic learning suddenly couldn’t wait to get to class and didn’t want to go home at the end of the day. We put the posters up all over the school. It never occurred to me to ask for permission.

To sum it up, the balloon release was canceled to the dismay of our counseling staff. I was called into the principal’s office (he was actually delighted by it all) and walked out smiling. The children were filled with joy. They were astonished that six-year- olds could affect real change in the world and make it a better place. I’ve been training tiny activists ever since, but it has never been as effective as that spring in 1989 when my first graders prevented over 1,000 bright red balloons from potentially choking a sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Several years ago I visited Prince William Sound. To my untrained eye, it is still a stunningly beautiful place, and nature has come a long way towards healing itself, but 25 years later there are still traces of that terrible day.)

Karen is a member of the LRGV Sierra Club Executive Committee. 

 

 

 

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Aerial View South Hook January 2009The 5 proposed Port of Brownsville LNG plants are among 40 natural gas export operations being advanced across the country.  If these proposals are approved the United States may become the world’s largest exporter of natural gas.  This in turn will raise domestic natural gas prices and expand the dangerous and destructive practice of fracking.  It will have serious implications for public health, the environment and climate change.
For this reason, the Sierra Club has taken the following actions:
  • The Sierra Club has developed a report entitled “Look Before the LNG Leap.”  The report demands that the Department of Energy undertake an environmental study that includes the cumulative impacts of ALL of the proposed LNG export facilities rather than allowing them to go through environmental review as individual projects.   READ IT HERE>>>
  • The Club has filed Motions to Intervene, Protest, and Comment for each and every LNG plant filing with Department of Energy.  In these motions they ask the Department of Energy to require an environmental review before granting the application, and they argue that the Department of Energy should find the application inconsistent with the public interest.  You can read the motions for 2 of the 5 Brownsville LNG projects HERE>>> and HERE>>>.
  • Along with other environmental organizations, the Sierra Club has petitioned the Department of Energy to revise the nearly 30-year-old policy guidelines for approving natural gas exports. You can read the press release and petition HERE>>>

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