WESLACO, RGV – Concerned they are not getting their message across to key players in the Rio Grande Valley, opponents of LNG terminals at the Port of Brownsville have come up with a new strategy.

Rather than just protest noisily outside open house events held by the LNG companies, groups like the RGV Chapter of the Sierra Club and Save RGV from LNG are asking for meetings with city and county leaders.

A great example was the recent appearance of Jim Chapman at a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council board of directors meeting. Chapman, who chairs the RGV Chapter of the Sierra Club and is a member of Save RGV from LNG, spoke for three minutes in the public comment period at the council of government meeting. At the same meeting he asked if the Sierra Club could be put on the agenda for an upcoming meeting so that a detailed power point presentation could be made to the 20 or so elected officials that make up the LRGVDC board.

“The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is an important group to be in front of. These are some of the top elected officials in the Valley. They are hearing from the LNG companies and of course they are going to hear all the positives. There are a large group of people that are opposed to bringing these LNG export facilities to Brownsville. These officials need to hear the other side. You cannot make an informed decision unless you know the cons as well as the pluses,” Chapman said.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Chapman pointed out that groups like the Sierra Club and the grassroots Save RGV from LNG have far fewer resources than LNG companies to invest in public outreach. The LNG companies hire top public relations firms to help them polish their message. They set up dozens of meetings with city and county leaders, schools, chambers of commerce, community groups and the like. Chapman, who lives in Weslaco, said one of the LNG companies looking to build a terminal at the Port of Brownsville, even made a presentation to the Lions Club of Weslaco. “Public opinion is going to be crucial,” Chapman said.

The Rio Grande Guardian asked Chapman to explain why one or more liquefied natural gas terminals at the Port of Brownsville would be bad for the Valley. Chapman said:

“These projects would be very disruptive to mangrove wetlands and other wildlife habitat in a very ecologically sensitive area. It would bring risk and hazard to an area that has none. The (LNG) industry has a good track record but accidents happen and have happened in the past. LNG is not flammable but if it escapes from wherever it is refrigerated it turns into natural gas which is, of course, explosive and flammable. So there is risk with these facilities and with these tankers.”

Asked about possible air pollution, Chapman said: “It would bring in an enormous amount of air pollution into Cameron County. Just one of these LNG plants would be far and away the largest source of air pollution in the county. We base our figures on what the Cheniere LNG facility at Sabine Pass, which is almost finished construction and so they have published what their discharges will be. In particular we should pay attention to the small particulates. These are the tiny, tiny, particles that are particularly a problem for people with asthma or other respiratory problems. Hundreds of tons of particulates will be put out. You are creating a real risk.”

Asked about the potential impact LNG terminals would have on the Valley’s tourist industry and South Padre Island, Chapman said: “There would be some impact because when they take opinion polls, tourists say they want to come to a place that’s safe and they want to come to a place that has clean beaches, good air, clean water, and wildlife. These LNG terminals would impact all of those.”

Asked if the LNG facilities would be visible on South Padre Island, Chapman said: “The storage tanks would be very visible. I know Texas LNG – which is the smallest of the three proposals for the Port of Brownsville – their tanks are 170 feet high. They would have to raise the base 15 feet. So you are really talking about 180 feet, so what would that be, a 16 story building? That is visible.”

Bill Harris, senior manager of communications for Annova LNG, LLC, recently met with Rio Grande Guardian staff. Harris put the positive side of the story for LNG construction at the Port of Brownsville and started by saying the Annova project would only be a mid-size development.

“There are these mid-scaled customers that aren’t a big giant country and can’t take billions of cubic feet of this liquefied natural gas. They simply need a million cubic-feet. That is why I think Annova LNG probably is a different animal than the other folks seeking a FERC permit to construct these facilities. We are looking at a niche market of people that will take a train’s worth of product on a single boat and will do that on a regular basis.”

FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Harris said for Annova to build an LNG terminal at the Port of Brownsville it will need to succeed on three fronts. Firstly, it will have to succeed with its permit applications. He said there are 26 different aspects to this. Second, it will have to sign up long term customers. Third, it will have to get the support of the local community – which explains why the company has been holding private meetings around the Valley with dozens of different organizations and institutions. “Seventy three percent of the public polled were very positive towards natural gas. We educated them a little bit in the polling about LNG transfer facilities and that number went to 83 percent. So, there is huge support in the RGV for energy related concerns,” Harris said. He said Annova hired polling firm Baselice & Associates of Austin and public relations firm KGBTexas of San Antonio.

Asked if there are any risks associated with piping natural gas from Corpus Christi to the Port of Brownsville for refrigeration and turning into liquid, Harris said: “Well, it comes in a pipe and is 91 percent filtered by the time it gets to a transfer facility like Annova. Annova has to do a little bit more filtering on it because there are particulates still in the gas and if you try to freeze gas with particulates in it, it gums up the entire works. It can damage valves and it cannot flow properly, kind of like the arteries in your body. When it finally gets in a train of refrigeration to be liquefied minus 261 degrees it is about 99 percent pure gas. So, you do not have those problems.”

Bill Harris of Annova LNG
Bill Harris of Annova LNG

Harris said a third party is handling the piping of natural gas from Corpus Christi to the Port of Brownsville. “They know the demand is there. We will do an off-take from their operation to get gas into Annova’s transfer facility. We repackage natural gas. A lot of people have been doing this, not only in the United States but around the world for 60 years with little or no impact on the public.”

Asked if an LNG terminal would be an eyesore, Harris said: “Everything is ground level with the exception of one stack. We are currently in the front end of doing engineering and design. By the first of next year we will submit our application requesting review and a complete environmental investigation and statement on the impact, everything from emissions, to culture to endangered species, to other habitat, all of this is in the ten or 11 reports that is part of this submittal.”

Harris said when he first visited the site at the Port of Brownsville where Annova will operate he took photos of South Padre Island. He said he could see two high rise condominiums. “One stack will be visible from the island and you will have to be pretty high on the island to see that stack. The next tallest component on the site will be the storage tank and it will be less tall than the stack, probably 150 feet or less. This entire process is transparent. When we submit our reports they are immediately posted on our docket on their (FERC) website and anybody can view them.”

Asked if there is going to any pollution, Harris said: “This is not going to smell at all because there is no odor in a commercial gas design. This gas is strictly for commercial process. We have leased 650 acres from the Port but our footprint is going to be 100 acres or less. The rest, the 550 acres can be used to mitigate whatever concerns we have, especially with the corridor of travel for the ocelot. This is a big concern to us. Since our kick off we have been talking to folks like you and businesses and education institutions. We have been asking what an LNG 101 Module might look like in the classroom. We would be offering 165 high paying jobs.”

Harris added that there is one definitive statement Annova can make at this stage: “If we do not have successful applications and permitting on all 26 fronts then this project is not going to happen. We do not intend to build a facility that violates any of the permissions given to build a facility like this and operate it.”

Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story shows Jim Chapman, chair of the RGV Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Ken Jones, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. The pair discussed the Sierra Club making a presentation to the LRGVDC on why proposals for LNG terminals at the Port of Brownsville should be opposed.