Texas LNG, one of the five companies that hope to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities along the Brownsville ship channel, recently held “open house” events in Brownsville and Port Isabel.
While Texas LNG did not hand out coloring books or have face painting for the kids, as Annova LNG had at their “open house,” the events were little more than elaborate sales pitches. Information that might hurt their case was conveniently missing, but they did have a table full of cupcakes and a raffle for a Samsung phone.
Emergency evacuation plans for Port Isabel, for example, were left unmentioned. Texas LNG’s storage tanks will be holding enormous quantities of natural gas, so in the event of a 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.
Texas LNG’s liquefied natural gas plant will be built less than 2 miles from the Walmart in Port Isabel, and about three miles south of the Port Isabel Junior High and High School. 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 three-mile hazard zone.
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 the local fire chief noted that if it had everyone within three-quarters of a mile would have been killed.
While the Texas LNG employees at the “open house” were eager to say that they would merely be refrigerating natural gas, not refining it, that is not true. The gas that they will receive via pipeline from the Eagle Ford fracking wells will only be around 91 percent or 92 percent pure methane. To supercool it for export they need to get that gas to well over 99 percent 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, they say, they will try to capture, though the details are still to be determined. But some will be released into the environment.
Texas LNG General Manager David Glessner told Channel 5 News that “we generate it in a stack and it gets dispersed in the air.” The prevailing wind will carry the emitted carcinogenic compounds and substances that trigger asthma attacks straight to nearby Laguna Heights, and to Port Isabel’s schools. Glessner said that “we don’t generate that much,” but no one at the “open house” could say exactly how much it would be, and even relatively small amounts breathed in day after day after day by children sitting in their classrooms has the potential to cause long-term health problems.
This is in addition to the gas flaring – burning excess natural gas to relieve pressure – that will periodically occur.
Instead of discussing the hazards, the signs scattered around the room promised jobs, jobs, jobs. But if you asked the Texas LNG representatives in the room for hard numbers and guarantees, the certainty of their posters dissolved into smoke and mirrors.
According to a slideshow on Texas LNG’s website, they intend to build the liquefaction facility at a Samsung plant in South Korea and ship it to the Port of Brownsville, meaning that South Korea will get the bulk of the skilled construction jobs, not South Texas. At the “open house” Texas LNG employees said that they had not decided where to build the plant, whether in Korea or Mexico or Texas. One would think that a billion dollar project would have already nailed down such a basic detail.
The massive industrialization and pollution that LNG will bring could also 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.
Two massive storage tanks will rise up 150 feet – 14 stories high. A flare stack will loom over them at 250 to 300 feet high. The Port Isabel lighthouse, just two and a half miles from the Texas LNG site, stands 82 feet tall. Texas LNG will dominate the skyline.
The tanks will be lit up all night long, as will the flare stack standing above them which will also periodically belch flames. This will be visible for miles around, including from the causeway and South Padre Island’s hotels. People come to visit our island paradise. Will they continue to do so when the area looks like Port Arthur?
Annova LNG has already asked Cameron County for a ten-year property tax abatement, meaning that they would not be paying their fair share to maintain local schools and roads. When asked if Texas LNG would also ask to be exempted from paying taxes, I was told by Chief Operating Officer Langtry Meyer that that was part of the business plan. Outside, speaking to a group of locals who were protesting against Texas LNG, he said that they would not seek a tax abatement. When reminded that half an hour earlier he had stated that they would, he claimed that they would accept a tax-break if the county offered it.
Tax abatements and state financial incentives (which these companies will also seek) are supposed to be used as a lure to bring businesses to an area. But they are not going to move elsewhere. The Brownsville Ship channel is ringed by the fracking wells that arc from Three Rivers to our north across to the Laredo area. Texas LNG, Annova LNG, and the others will not pick a different location just because they are refused a tax break.
Port Isabel will get few jobs and no tax revenues in exchange for air pollution, risk to the community, and a big hit to its tourist economy.
Even with a free cupcake that’s a bad deal.
For more information about the environmental impacts of the proposed LNG export facilities go to valleygreenspace.wordpress.com.