If their permits are granted, three companies, Next Decade LLC (trading as Rio Grande LNG), Annova LNG, and Texas LNG, will build massive LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) liquefaction and export facilities along both sides of the Brownsville Ship Channel, adjacent to and directly across from the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Bahia Grande wetlands.
All combined, the three facilities and the pipelines leading to them would cover almost 2,200 acres of black mangrove wetlands, tidal flats and vegetated uplands, all valuable and productive habitat.
The only appeal these companies have to our region is our need for jobs and economic development. Cameron County NEEDS jobs and economic development, which is without question, but here are the important questions we need to answer now:
What are the long-term costs of LNG export facilities to neighboring communities and residents? What do we stand to lose with massive LNG export facilities operating here?
• Health: Emissions will include volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), particulate matter, benzene, and other toxins which will impact the respiratory health of Laguna Vista, Port Isabel, and Laguna Heights residents living downwind of the plants, as well as tourists and vacationers in the area. Immediate health threats will impact the very young, the elderly and those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
• Safety: Blast evacuation zones for the LNG plants and the full tankers exiting the ship channel encompass Point Isabel schools, residents of Long Island Village, and recreational fishing areas. Evacuation from Long Island Village by hundreds of residents would be extremely slow due to a single drawbridge as the only egress. Drivers on Highway 48 which would border the perimeters of these facilities, would also be at risk.
• Tourism: Sea Turtle Inc., the SPI Birding and Nature Center, Convention Center events, seafood restaurants, nightlife, music, dolphin watches, the beach, and tranquil sunrises and sunset views draw tourists to Port Isabel and the Island. Massive tankers carrying LNG cargo in and out of the ship channel within sight of the jetties, intermittent emissions from the LNG flare stacks, and the potential danger to sea turtles and dolphins are concerns for the continued health of the local tourism industry.
• Ecotourism: Hundreds of thousands of ecotourists visit our beautiful South Texas coast every year. As the last remaining naturally pristine stretch of land along the Texas Gulf Coast, the preserved natural areas of the Laguna Madre, Boca Chica Beach, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuges have a powerful national appeal. A 2011 Texas A&M study revealed that ecotourism brings $463 million in revenue annually to our local economy. Additionally, beach tourism generates an estimated $300 million. Much of this revenue is from birders and nature lovers who come for the wildlife and nature unique to our region. The prospect of habitat loss for wildlife like the Texas Ocelot, the Texas Tortoise, sea turtles, marine mammals like our dolphins, and threatened nesting bird species, is raising concern among birders and naturalists around the country (and the world). The prospect of massive gas liquefaction facilities covering 2,200 acres of land with tanks, flare stacks, and concrete covering a once-pristine land and its vista of tall Yuccas and prickly pear blossoms, rare lomas, and dune vegetation, is sure to have a negative impact on ecotourism for this region.
• Shrimping Industry: As enormous LNG tankers enter, leave, and turn within the Channel, Coast Guard regulations will prohibit any other vessels in the Channel. The Texas Shrimping Industry is currently struggling to maintain its place in the Texas economy. These Channel access restrictions are sure to impact their survival. Knowledgeable diners seek Texas Gulf shrimp, as opposed to the cheaper shrimp shipped in from East Asia, knowing that Texas Gulf shrimp is fresh and safe. Shouldn’t state and local leaders support our local shrimping industry instead of placing it in an untenable position against the LNG export industry?
• Recreational fishing: Possible damage to fish estuaries, and lack of access to popular fishing locations off Highway 48, will certainly change the face of recreational fishing near the Channel.
Concerning economic development and jobs, shouldn’t our local leaders (Cameron County Commission, Brownsville Navigation Port, Cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, South Padre Island and Port Isabel) be visionary and creative about the KINDS of jobs we wish to bring to our area? There should not be a forced choice between jobs and a healthy environment. And certainly the Cameron County Commissioners should not even consider the requests for tax abatements these billion-dollar industries have brought to them.
Liquefied Natural Gas is FRACKED gas, so it leaves a trail of damage and methane emissions behind as it pipes its way toward liquefaction and export facilities, like the ones projected to be built here. The Paris Climate Agreement and the Pope’s Encyclical express strong commitment to a responsible energy future, and hundreds of cities and companies across the United States are investing in clean, renewable sources like solar and wind power, and embracing a commitment to protect our fragile ecosystems, to protect the environment of the future for our children and grandchildren. They encourage sustainable manufacturing and agriculture, and a lifestyle supportive of the Earth that sustains us. We need our leaders to embrace this vision of economic development for the future of Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley.
Let’s make Cameron County the most forward-looking in the state. Let’s explore clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable sources of economic development. To turn our area into the southernmost hub of the LNG industry, tied to the destructive fossil fuel industry, for short-term construction jobs that end when construction is finished and the global market for LNG is gone, is not the way.
Action South Texas is a local organization committed to social justice and education in the Rio Grande Valley, supporting health, environmental awareness, and citizen engagement. We hereby join 12 other Valley councils, groups, boards and organizations, including the communities of Port Isabel, Laguna Vista, Laguna Heights, Long Island Village, and South Padre Island (which have all passed official resolutions opposing LNG) in opposition to the building of natural gas liquefaction and export facilities at the Brownsville Ship Channel.
Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying the above guest column has been provided by Save RGV from LNG.