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 is an energy reporter for The Houston Chronicle, and he’s been following this story. Chapa says the reason the port city of Brownsville is being pursued by the energy companies is two-fold.
“About ten years ago or so, the discovery of the Eagle Ford Shale and the shale revolution, which unlocked previously trapped reserves of oil and gas in the United States,” Chapa says. “It made it economic to tap those resources underground, so what we have created is a surplus of oil and natural gas.”
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,” Chapa 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 in the region.
“There’s a lot on the line here,” Chapa 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 their 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 a hundred others.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, 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.