A lobby group for the LNG industry called Our Energy Moment has invited Rio Grande Valley elected officials to a private event at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen this Tuesday.

Members of Our Energy Moment include the Port of Brownsville, along with Annova LNG, one of the companies proposing to build an LNG export terminal near Port Isabel. So even though this is being held at a College, no one should expect an unbiased, educational event.

The group says they will host a panel discussion largely comprised of LNG supporters, and they have promised a “live LNG safety demonstration.”

In fact, this demonstration is a public relations stunt in which chemists in lab coats perform tricks. They will dip a flower in LNG to freeze it, and spill a little out to show that it’s non-corrosive. They will pour a bit of LNG in a bowl with a goldfish, drink water a short time after LNG was poured into the glass, and then douse a smoldering cigarette in the liquid.

By showing our elected officials these parlor tricks, the LNG export companies hope to squelch the valid concerns about safety that their constituents have, but it’s pretty easy to see through the tricks.

A goldfish is not harmed when LNG is poured in its bowl because the LNG is lighter than water, so it floats on top of the water rather than mixing with it. But as a Government Accountability Office report notes, because methane must be kept at minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit to remain in a liquid state, any living creature that comes into contact with LNG is subject to freeze burning. So, in the case of an LNG spill in the Gulf, fish are safe as long as they stay under water, but anything above the water line, such as waterfowl, dolphins or swimming humans, is not.

When LNG spills, it begins evaporating immediately, which is why you can eventually drink a glass of water into which LNG has been poured. Because the LNG does not mix with the water, just as the fish is not swimming in liquefied natural gas, the person holding the glass is not drinking LNG. Instead, a small quantity of LNG is used for this trick and allowed to evaporate before the person raises the glass.

When they douse the cigarette in LNG and say that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is not flammable they are simply lying. Liquid fuels do not catch fire below the surface. During any spill flammable liquids such as gasoline and LNG immediately begin to vaporize and mix with air, and it is the vapor rising from the liquid that is flammable. You can see many YouTube demonstrations of people dousing matches and lit cigarettes in gasoline, but we do not pretend that gasoline is not flammable.

LNG can ignite at gas-to-air concentrations of 5 to 15 percent and burns hotter than gasoline. Reaching flammable concentrations is not some sort of rare event. As LNG evaporates a there will be a portion of the resulting vapor cloud that is at a flammable concentration. Remember, we use natural gas as a fuel because it burns so consistently.

If the vapor cloud evaporating above spilled LNG ignites, it burns its way back to the spill and becomes an intense pool fire. A Sandia National Laboratories report found that LNG vapor clouds could travel more than a mile on the wind before catching fire. This risk of flammable vapor clouds drifting into populated areas led Sandia produced to recommend “areas of refuge” and “community warning procedures” in communities near LNG terminals.

By limiting their discussion about the safety of the LNG export terminals to the liquefied natural gas itself, the companies and their public relations outfit may be concealing greater risks to the communities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The LNG export terminals will be handling large quantities of fuel that is much more volatile than methane. Heavier hydrocarbons such as propane, ethane and butane would be refined out of the natural gas at the facilities, and some are used as freezing agents in the liquefaction process. There is a long history of catastrophic accidents where these dangerous fuels are handled, and they potentially account for more risk than the LNG itself.

In fact, it was a hydrocarbon leak into a steam boiler inlet which caused a massive explosion at the Skidka, Algeria LNG Export Terminal in 2004. Twenty seven workers died and 70 more were injured. Fortunately, the Skidka LNG storage tanks were not damaged. But LNG safety experts have expressed concern that the presence of these volatile fuels near such an enormous and concentrated amount of methane could result in a catastrophe that threatens people and property outside of the facility’s boundaries.

The LNG feeder pipelines pose yet another risk. Each LNG export terminal will require one or two 42-inch diameter pipelines which will slice through South Texas. The gas in these lines will be at high pressure and non-odorized. Pipeline accidents are occurring with increasing frequency—there’s been a 60 percent increase in major accidents since 2009, according to the Associated Press. And that includes new lines. This year a Pipeline Safety Trust analysis found that new pipelines are currently failing at the same rate as old pipelines built before 1940.

These LNG parlor tricks do nothing to address the very real concerns that Valley residents have. The companies are wasting time with smoke and mirrors, rather than having honest, adult discussions with residents and stakeholders on the real risks involved in LNG export terminal operations. While pushing the false idea that the facilities will be completely safe, they are not working with our municipalities to develop community warning and evacuation procedures. They are not educating first responders on what will be required in case of an accident.

If Annova LNG, Texas LNG, and Rio Grande LNG want to operate in the Rio Grande Valley, they need to be honest with South Texans, not try to dazzle us with parlor tricks. We are not children.