By Joyce Hamilton, Kate McSwain and Jodi Goodwin
Action South Texas
Special to the PRESS
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 at the Brownsville Ship Channel, adjacent to and across from the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Bahia Grande. Together, the three facilities and pipelines leading to them would cover almost 2,200 acres of black mangrove wetlands, tidal flats and vegetated uplands — all valuable, productive habitat.
These companies have appealed to our region’s need for jobs and economic development. Without question, Cameron County needs jobs and economic development, but there are important questions we need to answer:
What are the long-term costs of LNG export facilities to residents of neighboring communities?
What do we stand to lose with massive LNG export facilities operating here?
- Health: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, benzene and other airborne toxins will impact the health of Laguna Vista, Port Isabel and Laguna Heights residents downwind of the plants, as well as tourists and vacationers. 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 include Point Isabel schools, Long Island Village and recreational fishing areas. Evacuation of hundreds of residents from Long Island Village would be hampered by a single drawbridge as the only egress.
- Tourism: Sea Turtle Inc., the Birding and Nature Center, Convention Centre events, restaurants, nightlife, music, dolphin watches, the beach, and tranquil sunrises and sunset views draw tourists to Port Isabel and the Island. Massive tankers carrying hazardous LNG cargo near the jetties, emissions from flare stacks, and potential danger to sea turtles and dolphins will certainly impact local tourism.
- 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 national wildlife refuges draw national and international tourists. 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. Habitat loss for wildlife like the Texas ocelot, the Texas tortoise, sea turtles, marine mammals like our dolphins, and threatened nesting bird species, is a grave concern for birders and naturalists. Massive gas liquefaction facilities with their tanks, flare stacks, and concrete covering a once-pristine vista of tall yuccas, prickly pear blossoms and a unique ecosystem will be a blow to ecotourism for this region.
- Shrimping Industry: While LNG tankers enter, leave and turn within the Channel, Coast Guard regulations will prohibit any other vessels in the Channel. These access restrictions are sure to impact the Texas shrimping industry, which is currently struggling to maintain its place in the Texas economy. Texas Gulf shrimp is trusted as fresh and safe, and preferable to cheaper imported shrimp. Shouldn’t we be supporting Texas shrimpers, not endangering this industry?
Shouldn’t our local leaders be visionary about the kinds of jobs we bring to our area? We encourage Cameron County commissioners, the Brownsville Navigation District, Cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, South Padre Island and Port Isabel to avoid forcing a 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 recently presented to them.
As fracked gas, LNG leaves a trail of damage and methane emissions 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 have both committed 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 sustainable manufacturing and agriculture. A lifestyle supportive of the Earth that sustains us is critical. We need our leaders to embrace this vision of economic development for the future of Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley.
Let us be the most forward-looking economy in the state by exploring clean, safe and environmentally sustainable sources of energy and economic development. To turn our area into the southernmost hub of the LNG industry, tied to the destructive fossil fuel industry, for mostly short-term construction jobs, is not a healthy plan.
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.
-Joyce Hamilton and Kate McSwain, Action South Texas Environmental Committee
Jodi Goodwin, Action South Texas Facilitator
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