Sierra Club Continues Baseless Attacks on Natural Gas Exports in Texas
Mon, July 15, 2019
Last week, California-based activist group Sierra Club released a report falsely claiming that three South Texas liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities would pose risks to the climate, cause “ecosystem damage” and negatively impact communities and health in the region. To support each of these points the group relied on a combination of scare tactics and unfounded claims in yet another shameless attempt to spread misinformation and fear about LNG exports in Texas.
This isn’t the first time that the Sierra Club has waged an attack on Texas’ expanding LNG export market. As Texans for Natural Gas revealed earlier this year, Sierra Club has failed numerous times in its attempts to use the courts to prevent these facilities from being built. Sierra Club also uses at least one “grassroots” organization – Save RGV from LNG - as a front for its efforts by staffing and funding the group to fight these three South Texas LNG facilities.
Baseless Claims of “Ecosystem Damage”
From the start, Sierra Club lobbed a number of baseless claims about the environmental impacts of these LNG projects. For example, under the “Ecosystem Damage” header in the report’s Key Risks section, Sierra Club alleges that these terminals “would pave over wetlands and divide a national wildlife refuge.” It elaborates later on, stating that “the development and operation of the gas infrastructure, as well as the constant navigation of tankers shipping the gas across the ocean, would severely harm and fracture the wildlife corridor concentrated in the Rio Grande delta and around the ship channel, and would further divide the wildlife refuge.”
There are a number of glaring issues with that statement. First, these three projects are being constructed on an existing shipping channel at the Port of Brownsville, which has been active since 1936. In fact, the 40,000-acre Port of Brownsville is the only deepwater port located on the U.S. and Mexico border and is one of the countries largest ports by export volume. But going off of Sierra Club’s description, one would think it these projects were being places in the very center of a pristine and undeveloped area – that’s simply not true.
Secondly, all three of these projects have gone through extensive reviews of their potential environmental impacts, with all three receiving positive Final Environmental Impact Statements from the U.S. Federal Regulatory Commission. The FEIS for Rio Grande LNG, for example, concluded that potential impacts from the project “would be reduced to less than significant levels,” while the potential impacts of the others were manageable. Overall, they all passed this necessary permitting process.
It’s important to note to the extent of each of these environmental assessments. Each include input from several federal and state regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – just to name a few. Additionally, other agencies were consulted, such as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission to ensure local and cultural impacts were considered.
Texas LNG alone put in 300,000 man-hours of evaluation and engagement with regulatory agencies on the environmental, safety, and socioeconomic impacts in order to just file for the application to site, construct and operate the project. This is a far cry from the completely unregulated and damaging picture that Sierra Club is painting in its report.
In addition to this approval process, each of these projects are taking extra effort to be protective of the local environmental. Annova LNG, for example, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shifted the project layout in order to establish a 185-acre environmental conservation corridor in order to avoid impacting more than 100 acres of wetlands. Further, Annova LNG is supporting of endangered ocelots in the Rio Grande Valley by partnering with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute’s Wild Cats Conservation Fund and Feline Research Program. This directly contradicts Sierra Club’s “Key Risk” that the projects would “destroy habitat for multiple endangered species” and “would mean “permanent and significant” impacts to the endangered ocelot.
Climate Disaster? How About Climate Winner
In addition to unfounded claims about the environmental impacts, Sierra Club claims that these projects would be a “climate disaster.” As the report notes,
“These terminals predominantly liquefy fracked gas, and would contribute to expansion of fracking the Eagle Ford and Permian shale basins.”
Far from a “climate disaster” natural gas development in the Eagle Ford and Permian – along with shale basins across Texas and the rest of the United States – has helped drive U.S. emissions to decade lows. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, American greenhouse gas emissions are at their lowest levels since 1992. Moreover, EIA data show that natural gas use for electricity generation has prevented over two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
Notably, one of the key claims of the report is that these three projects would “do the same damage to the climate as approximately 61 coal plants.” To make such an outlandish claim, Sierra Club used completely unrealistic numbers when making its calculation. For example, it used a 3.8 percent leakage rate which it stated was “a commonly observed leakage rate.” However, a number of peer reviewed studies put the rate below 2.3 percent – including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which put it at about 1.4 percent – significantly lower than what Sierra Club is claiming.
Their calculations are especially absurd when considering a 2015 Carnegie Mellon study found that the lifecycle of LNG – meaning wellhead to end use – maintains its climate benefits long as upstream fugitive methane emissions leakage rates stay below 9 percent when LNG is used for electricity generation and 5 percent when its used for heating. From the study:
“By displacing coal, LNG saves 550 g CO2-equiv per kWh of electricity and 20 g per MJ of heat.” (emphasis added)
These projects and the continued expansion of natural gas development in the Eagle Ford and Permian would mean that countries around the world could experience similar decline in their emissions levels thanks to increased use of natural gas.
Benefiting the Community and Texas
Another “Key Risk” cited in the report is that these facilities would negatively impact local communities both economically and in terms of health. Again, both of these allegations are absurd.
For starters, the report makes an unfounded accusation to even introduce the topic, stating that “as often is the case with industrial fossil fuel development, the communities that would feel the negative impacts of these terminals are largely low-income people of color.” The report elaborates, mentioning that “nearly 28 percent of the Brownsville-Harlingen area’s resident live below the federal poverty line, the fourth highest rate of any metropolitan area.”
But instead of being an “environmental injustice,” as Sierra Club claims, these projects will benefit the very people the report highlights by bringing in good-paying jobs and injecting billions of dollars into the local economy. The Rio Grande LNG alone is expected to created between 4,000 and 6,000 jobs during construction, in addition to 3,000 indirect jobs supported by these activities. Moreover, this construction is estimated to generate almost $4.4 billion in economic benefits for Cameron County and over $17.1 billion for the state. Taken as a whole, all non-operational activities associated with the project, including the Rio Bravo pipeline, are estimated to contribute over $12 billion in economic benefits and $116 million in tax revenue for Cameron County alone.
But it’s not just the Rio Grande LNG that would boost the local economy. Annova LNG is estimated to provide $1.1 billion in labor income during each year of the terminal’s construction along with supporting over 2,700 jobs. Once completed the project is expected to create 165 permanent local jobs with an average annual salary of $70,000 – that’s nearly twice the median household income of Cameron County. Meanwhile, Texas LNG represents approximately $1.3 billion in direct investment and is expected to increase state and local tax revenue by more than $11 million annually.
Coupled with this economic argument, Sierra Club also claims that these projects would have regional health impacts by negatively affecting air quality. As the report states,
“The region already struggles with major health disparities, and these proposed LNG facilities would emit thousands of tons of harmful pollutants into the air.”
What the report fails to mention is that these projects are going above and beyond in order to mitigate any air impacts stemming from their operation. Texas LNG notes that it will be sourcing a portion of its feed gas – the gas used for liquefaction – from “currently flared and vented supplies,” meaning that it would help to reduce emissions overall. Further, the project will be using electric compressors “resulting in significant emissions reductions.” Annova LNG will also be using electric compressors in conjunction with a gas recovery system that will capture and reuse vapors instead of venting or flaring them.
The United States is poised to become the largest exporter of LNG within the next five years, and its being driven by record production from Texas. As Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, recently said:
“The second wave of the U.S. shale revolution is coming. It will see the United States account for 70 percent of the rise in global oil production and some 75 percent of the expansion in LNG trade over the next five years. This will shake up international oil and gas trade flows, with profound implications for the geopolitics of energy.”
So while Sierra Club tries to make the case that these are “three terminals too many,” the reality is the world needs more Texas natural gas – not less - and Texans are ready to supply it.