Wednesday, March 18, 2015


By Stefanie Herweck
The first thing we noticed was the smell, slightly sulphur at first, as we were driving into town. As we got closer the air took on an acidity that we could feel in our eyes and taste on our tongues.

When we arrived on the west side of Port Arthur we didn’t just smell the pollution, we saw a sickly brown stripe across the sky streaking its way over the marshes and beach to the south.

There are refineries here, including Motiva, the largest oil refinery in the nation, smack up against neighborhoods. There are piles of coke and coke-fired power plants belching black smoke. The Veolia incinerator is here burning, among other things, toxins which were manufactured for Syrian chemical weapons.

The combined emissions from these sources mean that cancer mortality rates in Port Arthur are 25 percent higher than the state average. Long-term exposure to a stew of chemicals punctuated by intense individual releases that trigger warnings has wreaked havoc on the families who live in West Port Arthur. And the oil and gas industry here hasn’t been an economic boon to the residents—more than a quarter live in poverty.

This is a sacrifice zone.

Like many other areas along the Gulf Coast, and inland in the shale gas frack zones, Port Arthur has been given over to the fossil fuel industry. The air and water, along with the health and safety of the residents, have all been sacrificed for big oil and gas.

Petrochemicals and profits are shipped out. Pollution and poverty remain.

As we passed over the ship channel bridge, the latest industry conquest loomed on the horizon. Across the Sabine River which divides Texas from Louisiana, cranes moved like an insect’s legs around Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG facility. The plant was originally built to be an import facility, but when the practice of hydrofracking increased domestic gas supplies and drove prices down, Cheniere began the process of converting Sabine Pass into an export terminal.
trainsThe Sabine Pass LNG refrigeration “trains” under construction. When construction is complete six trains will purify and liquefy up to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas that is piped to the facility. You can see the 377-foot flare in the center of the photo.
The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas.  That's a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.
The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas. That’s a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.
tankerWe found the LNG tanker Methane Rita Andrea already berthed at Sabine Pass.

The best view of the 1,000-acre Sabine Pass LNG facility is from the Texas side of the river, as tall impoundments obscure much of the plant on the Louisiana side. They look like the levees that line the Rio Grande, but instead of blocking the advance of flood waters they were raised to corral a pool of liquefied natural gas or other flammable liquids should there be an accidental release. LNG is extremely hazardous, because once ignited, it burns so hot that firefighters cannot approach, and people a mile or more away must be evacuated due to the risk of deadly thermal radiation.

When construction is completed later this year, the plant will purify and then liquefy fracked gas by cooling it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, which condenses it down to 1/600th of its volume. The liquefied gas will be loaded onto ships for export to countries where gas prices are higher. When all six of its refrigeration “trains” are complete, the facility will be capable of exporting 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of LNG.

Mercury, carbon dioxide, sulphur and water will be removed from the gas in these scaffold-like “trains.” Propane, ethylene, and the methane itself will be used as “cryogens” to cool the gas. Because natural gas is continually warming and “boiling off,” Cheniere will relieve pressure by intermittently burning excess gas from a flare tower 377 feet tall.

Cheniere is not the source of the toxic soup that Port Arthur’s residents currently breathe, of course, because the facility is not yet online. But when it begins shipping gas it will add smog and carcinogens to the mix. In fact, in its environmental assessment documents, Cheniere reports that the facility will be a major source of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulates, and greenhouse gases.

The Brownsville Navigation District is currently courting 5 proposed liquefied natural gas export facilities that, if built, would line the Brownsville ship channel just outside of Port Isabel.

Together their expected output could be as much as or greater than Sabine Pass LNG, which means that they could emit similar levels of toxins, including 5,790 tons of nitrogen oxides, 8,837 tons of carbon monoxide, and 305 tons of volatile organic compounds each year. All three of these will have serious impacts on human health. They could also emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases, and pump ton after ton of smog-causing, asthma-attack-inducing particulates into the air.

By inviting these LNG facilities into the Rio Grande Valley, we are sacrificing the very air that we breathe.

We may also be sacrificing our existing economy. Imagine how the sight of burning flares amid a brown cloud will impact tourism on the island. Will people still come here to go birding when the air burns their throat?

And when those “clean” economic drivers decline, will we, like Port Arthur, court dirtier and dirtier industries to fill the void?

We have seen in Port Arthur that fossil fuel companies do not make good neighbors. They will transform Brownsville, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island, both through direct emissions of toxins and smog, and indirectly, as our economy and quality of life come to mirror Port Arthur’s. And as fracking to feed these export facilities ramps up in South Texas and Northern Mexico, they will have a similar, devastating effect on our region.

Valley residents have a choice: we can stand up for our clean air and reject the LNG export facilities, or we can become the next sacrifice zone for big oil and gas.

Please join us March 30, 2015 6:30 p.m. at Galeria 409 in Brownsville (see map:


Anonymous said...

I thought the "Valley" was already fossilized.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Valleygreenspace wants to provide 300 to 1200 jobs in our area that average from $70,000.00 to $100,000.00 per year saleries?

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, another yuppie gringa puta telling us we need clean air to breath instead of jobs and food for our children.

Laguna Vista Resident said...

Jobs may be created by these LNG plants, but what about the current jobs and industries that will be destroyed such as ecotourism, tourism, fishing, birding?
Then we can mention the lifestyle we currently have which is relatively free of air, water, light, and noise pollution. All of these pollutants effect the health of our community in the RGV.

The gas will be piped into the Valley which means the pipes will crisscross the Valley and its waterways going through farmland and near communities. Land will be seized through eminent domain and right of ways. Mangroves will be destroyed and need to be reforested and boat ramps will be shut down in the area.

The LNG plants' products will not be for national consumption of this fuel but to export to other countries to make money for the gas industry at the expense of the local economy and people. It may also drive up our nation's natural gas prices through supply and demand.

We have a unique ecosystem in the our Laguna Madre and National Wildlife Refuges which should be preserved for our children and their children. We should not let our RGV become another Corpus Christi or Port Arthur.

This is not a good thing for the Valley! I speak as a biologist with a degree in marine ecology!

Anonymous said...

Space XYZ should be relocated to the Mojave Desert. The Sahara?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember anyone saying they are planning to do away with ecotourism, tourism, fishing, or birding, but then i am not in the loop and could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Take care of Earth. It is the only one we have !