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Rio Grande LNG Is an Enormous Threat to the RGV

It would be hard to imagine a project more damaging than Next Decade’s Rio Grande LNG export terminal near Port Isabel, the largest of the three LNG export terminals proposed for the Brownsville ship channel.

The 1,000-acre industrial complex would be among the largest LNG terminals in the United States and would sprawl along Highway 48 from Brownsville to Port Isabel for two and a half miles.

Four 16-story high LNG storage tanks would tower over six enormous natural gas liquefaction “trains”—block mazes of pipes that stretch 830 by 1020 feet. At only six miles from South Padre Island, the plant would be an industrial blight on the horizon for residents and tourists alike, threatening property values and nature and beach tourism industries that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and support thousands of jobs.

Two 42-inch pipelines will carry gas 137 miles from near Corpus Christi in order to bring Eagle Ford fracked gas to the terminal. Three 180,000 horsepower compressor stations along the route will keep the pipelines at high pressure.

Rio Grande has reported how much pollution they expect the plant to emit, and it far exceeds any other single source polluter we currently have in Cameron County.

Here's a comparison between the largest existing sources of these pollutants and Rio Grande LNG's expected emissions.

As you can see, Rio Grande LNG would supersize our levels of industrial pollution.

Residents would also be forced to accept the risk of this inherently dangerous fuel. LNG is dangerous because it is such a concentrated source of fuel, and the Rio Grande LNG export terminal will be storing and shipping so much of it. In the event of a spill LNG evaporates and can form a flammable vapor cloud that can drift along the ground for miles before igniting. LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach, and the fires must burn themselves out.

Rio Grande LNG will also use fuels such as propane. ethylene and butane in the refrigeration process to cool the gas, and these are even more volatile than the methane itself.

The plans call for six truck loading bays to transport these and other hazardous liquids in tanker trucks by road to and from the facility.

Rio Grande LNG will send out an estimated six fully-loaded LNG carrier ships each week which will pass within a third of a mile of crowded Isla Blanca Beach and within one mile of Schlitterbahn, putting the county park and water park in the high- and medium-hazard zones developed by Sandia National Laboratories in the case of an intentional breach.

Each ship would take two hours to transit the Brownsville Ship Channel, and then 20 to 24 hours to load, before making the two hour journey back out of the ship channel.

Rio Grande LNG’s liquefied natural gas terminal will be built just 2.8 miles from Port Isabel. This is just outside Sandia’s 2.2-mile outer hazard zone, but it violates the three-mile hazard zone recommended by chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens.

The risks to the public do not end there. According to the company, the two enormous pipelines will slice through land owned by 150 families, who will be forced to make way for the double pipeline and its permanent 75-foot right-of-way or have their property condemned under eminent domain.

The gas in these pipelines will not be odorized, making leaks difficult to detect by the public and putting more people at risk. The explosion of a much smaller 30-inch pipeline this year in Pennsylvania illustrates how catastrophic such breaches can be. And Texas is sorely lacking in state pipeline inspectors. The Railroad Commission, charged with pipeline safety in Texas, says that it does not have enough inspectors to ensure pipeline safety in the state.

Rio Grande LNG would have harmful effects on wildlife, too. The site’s position between the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge makes it a key component of the wildlife corridor, a decades-long project to connect the Valley’s few remaining areas of habitat. The noise, lights, and activity of the facility would impede wildlife travel, including that of the endangered ocelot, far beyond the terminal’s boundaries. In fact, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has said of the Rio Grande LNG project “The permanent loss of 774 acres of habitat would be a major impact to the already fragmented habitat surrounding the area.”

Over half of the proposed terminal site is made up of wetlands, areas that act as marine nurseries to support fishing stocks. These are so valuable that they are protected by the Clean Water Act. But this protection is limited because the Army Corps of Engineers will allow Next Decade to “mitigate,” often by attempting to recreate or remediate wetlands elsewhere. Such trades are regularly criticized by ecologists who note that the many functions of natural wetlands are not so easily replaced.

Wetlands map

“In LNG, everything is big,” according to Kathleen Eisenbrenner, the CEO of NextDecade LNG, and in fact, her Rio Grande LNG project is enormous—a monster that threatens to consume everything that is good about our coastal Texas home—our clean air, our security, and our natural fish and wildlife habitats.

The details of the project are available at under the docket number CP16-454. You can read the Rio Grande LNG/Rio Bravo Pipeline application here.

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