Rio Grande Valley residents on Tuesday will have an opportunity to express their concerns to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during a public hearing over the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals for the Port of Brownsville. And it’s important that the public comes out and voices opposition to this project because the corporations that want to build the LNG export in South Texas are engaging in a campaign of half-truths designed to boost public support and to avoid confronting the serious issues that this massive project raises.
Those advocating for the terminal say LNG is not flammable and when confronted with safety concerns, claim that any spill would vaporize and dissipate. But “vaporize” and “dissipate” does not mean the LNG would disappear. It means that the liquefied methane would turn back into gas. And when that gas mixes with enough oxygen, it becomes highly flammable and could ignite in the presence of a spark or flame.
If a fire starts just above the evaporating LNG spill, it is called a pool fire. A 2008 Department of Energy report found that LNG pool fires burn so hot that it can kill or injure people up to 1 mile away. A flammable vapor cloud can also travel more than 1 mile from the LNG spill before encountering an ignition source and catching fire.
That is why everyone living within 2 miles of a Washington state LNG facility was evacuated in 2014 when an LNG storage tank was punctured.
Sections of Port Isabel are within this 2-mile evacuation zone, and up to 10 LNG tankers per week would pass within 200 yards of the crowded Isla Blanca Beach.
The LNG corporations also claim that natural gas is “clean-burning.” But what they mean is simply that methane burns cleaner than coal, and that is a necessary distinction.
LNG export terminals are, in fact, major sources of hazardous air pollutants. The plants emit nitrogen oxides, which can harm the respiratory tract; carbon monoxide, a poison especially harmful to pregnant women and fetuses; volatile organic compounds, which are carcinogens and neurotoxins; and particulates that are extremely harmful to those with asthma.
If built, these LNG facilities would be the largest single-sources of air pollution in Cameron County. And those emissions would blow with prevailing southeasterly winds towards Los Fresnos, Laguna Vista and Port Isabel.
Furthermore, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and the climate, exporting liquefied natural gas is actually just as polluting as coal. The U.S. Department of Energy found that by the time natural gas was extracted by fracking, piped to the export terminal, processed and liquefied, transported to Asia and then re-gasified and burned in a power plant, its carbon footprint was just as bad as coal.
The companies are also wooing our elected officials with golden promises of jobs, but the predictions that they make don’t take into account the bigger economic picture: A few hundred LNG jobs cannot compare with the thousands of jobs that rely on beach and nature tourism. People in the rest of the state pass up beaches in Galveston and Corpus Christi to come to South Padre Island precisely to avoid dirty petrochemical industrial areas.
When the view from the South Padre beach includes 14-story-tall storage tanks and 300 to 500-foot-tall flare stacks, and sunsets are spoiled by a brown haze and hundreds of high-powered lights, will they continue to come? Will birders from all over the world still visit when the area is an industrial site? In their rosy predictions, the corporations seem to ignore all of the job losses the LNG plants will surely bring.
They also leave out the costs to us, consumers. As U.S. gas is exported, domestic gas prices are expected to rise, which means that our electric bills will go up, along with the prices for everything we buy. Higher gas prices mean a higher cost of doing business for U.S. manufacturers. That means Valley businesses will take a hit. And with LNG corporations asking for 10 year tax abatements, those costs suffered by the community will not be balanced out by tax revenue.
Rio Grande Valley citizens and elected officials need to look past the LNG corporate sales pitches and demand the whole truth about how LNG export terminals will affect our safety, our health and our economy. For more information, please go to SaveRGVfromLNG.com.
Stefanie Herweck serves on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club. She lives in McAllen.(Story reprinted from Mark Clark's Facebook page and The Monitor)