Defending the Last Clean Beach in Texas

posted by Rainforest Action Network

This blog was written by Rebekah Hinojosa of Save RGV from LNG, and Johanna de Graffenreid of Gulf Restoration Network.

The Rio Grande Valley along the Texas and Mexico border is a diverse community, situated on the last untouched beach on the Texas Gulf Coast without an industrial city on the horizon. People drive for miles to experience the pristine waterway, and the cities in the Valley rely on the clean air and water of the region to survive. The region’s population of 1.3 million people is 90% Latino and contains the two poorest metropolitan areas in the United States. Three liquefied natural gas, or fracked-gas, export facilities are threatening this environment and the Latino community that calls the Rio Grande Valley home. 

Texas LNG, Annova LNG, and Rio Grande/Next Decade LNG have all requested permission from FERC to begin construction on three separate, but equally dangerous, fracked-gas export facilities immediately next to one another on the Brownsville Port. Familiar banks are behind these projects: BNP Paribas is raising finances for Texas LNG’s terminal, while Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation is making the arrangements for the Next Decade project. The most recent bond transaction by Annova LNG’s parent company was led by Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley.*

These facilities aren’t small. A single ship pulling into the port is three football fields long, which means huge impacts on the fisherfolk aboard the 300 shrimper boats who rely on the river and coast for their livelihoods. In an area where about 50% of children live in households below the poverty level and depend on food stamps, every source of income counts.

These LNG hazards are not limited to just the Valley: the projects also include a 140-mile-long new pipeline that stretches to the Eagle Ford Shale, one of the largest gas deposits in the United States reaching from the U.S.-Mexico border to Austin, Texas. The pipeline will demand 4.5 billion cubic feet of fracked gas daily from underneath the communities on the shale formation. With over 20,000 fracking leases that have been issued for the Eagle Ford Shale since 2008 — this averages to about seven leases approved per day for the past eight years — this new pipeline will severely increase exploitation of this shale region.

Methane, or fracked gas, is highly explosive. The “blast zone” — the area that would be under direct threat from an explosion — is a two mile radius around these facilities. Port Isabel, the closest town to these pipelines, barges, processing facilities and storage tanks, has four schools and over 10,000 mostly low-income and Latino people who would be forced to evacuate on a bottlenecked road or risk driving directly through the flame to escape.

These hazardous facilities are proposed next to the largest wetland restoration project in North American history, the Bahia Grande. Home to the endangered ocelot species and many types of birds, conservationists fear that the intense train, construction, light and noise pollution will drive these populations into extinction. The area is also host to South Padre Island, a key ecotourism location for Texas. These LNG export facilities place all this at risk of an explosion and are threatening one of the few major industries that could help the Rio Grande Valley avoid the dangerous development that has ruined the Texas coastline.

*Exelon Generation Co. LLC, a subsidiary of Exelon Corp, acquired Annova LNG in 2014. Bond transaction data sourced from Bloomberg.