Brownsville, Texas, is one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the nation. But it is now being considered for almost $40 billion worth of investment. Three energy companies are planning projects to bring liquefied natural gas plants to the area – striking community controversy and organized opposition to the proposals.
Sergio Chapa, an energy reporter for The Houston Chronicle, says the reason the port city is being pursued is two-fold.
Chapa points to the discovery about 10 years ago of the Eagle Ford Shale and the shale revolution, "which unlocked previously trapped reserves of oil and gas in the United States."
“It made it economic to tap those resources underground, so what we have created is a surplus of oil and natural gas," he says.
The availability of land, Chapa says, is the other reason the LNG industry is interested in Brownsville.
“A lot of the ports along the Gulf Coast are already out of land they can lease,” he says. “[These large facilities] require hundreds of acres in some cases, and without any land at some of the more traditional ports like Corpus Christi or Houston, these developers started looking further south.”
While the plan includes nearly $40 billion in private investment, thousands of jobs and additional U.S. exports of natural gas, Chapa says critics are focused on preserving quality of life and the environment.
“There’s a lot on the line here,” he says. “These projects are being built in one of the poorest areas of the state, one of the areas of the state with the highest unemployment and also in an endangered species wildlife corridor.”
Chapa says one retired couple with firsthand experience in the energy industry is helping lead the community in the fight against the construction of these LNG plants.
“[The Gundersons] lived in Texas City – it’s a suburb of Houston – for a number of years, where George Gunderson worked at the B.P. oil refinery,” Chapa says. “That was until an accident in March 2005. A cloud of gas ignited, killing a number of people and injuring more than 100 others.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality held a permit application hearing Wednesday on plans by Texas LNG. After hearing objections from the city, Chapa says, the TCEQ decided to send the case to a contested-case hearing, where an administrative judge will review the request.
Written by Hayden Baggett.