I-Team Report: LNG Under Pressure Part 2

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BROWNSVILLE - Residents have plenty at stake, as the government begins to evaluate LNG projects in the Rio Grande Valley. Those who are wondering what to expect during the process may only have to look a little to the north.

The government has already approved four other LNG projects along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. Cheniere Energy recently finished converting one facility near Port Arthur. The company is also building another project near Corpus Christi.

Cheniere is a Houston-based company. Their path to construction offers a window into how the approval process can work. When it comes to liquefied natural gas, construction usually moves forward, despite objections of people who live nearby.

Cheniere’s LNG plant in Sabine Pass, Louisiana is right across the Texas border. It’s a gigantic sprawling structure that is several stories high.

The size of the plant is about the size of an NFL football stadium. It dominates the coastal landscape.

“Maybe about 10 to 15 years ago, this was an ideal spot to bring your family,” said Isom Ramsey.

Ramsey visits the park across the Sabine River from the Cheniere plant. The outings were routine for the past 10 to 15 years.

“It seems like the more we complain, the more deaf ears we have,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey tried to fight the construction and lost.

“Seems like the ones that have the deepest pockets are the ones that get their way,” he said. “Ordinary citizens like I, we suffer, because we don't have the resources to fight these big companies, and that's a shame. I wasn't happy then, and I'm still not happy.”

About a mile from Cheniere sits another LNG facility.

“There was tons of people that were against it,” said Ronnie Wyble, Port Arthur resident. “It didn't do any good, because they built it anyway. I feel like it meant nothing.”

Golden Pass LNG is right across the street from Wyble’s home.

“All we saw was the marsh out there and just trees and stuff,” Wyble said. “That’s all gone. It was quieter out here. Now you see tanks. It's like living by a refinery, because that's what it is. And I never wanted that.”

Wyble bought his waterfront property 11 years ago. He was told that residents had a say in the decision to build the LNG plant.

“I think it was a done deal before they even started these meetings,” he said. “Cheniere is just part of what I like to call the LNG rush versus the gold rush.”

Not everyone in Port Arthur is against LNG. Bill McCoy is the president for the city’s chamber of commerce.

“The LNG is kind of our future right now,” he said. “It's kind of strange the FERC permits are kind of holding these up.”

Cheniere said it will begin converting natural gas to liquid at the Sabine Pass facility before the end of this year.

“The view I had as a child, my grandchildren, they'll never have that view, because this landscape has been changed forever,” Isom Ramsey said.

Trips to the waterfront park will never be the same for Ramsey.

Closer to the Valley, Cheniere is building another LNG plant. CHANNEL 5 NEWS found heavy traffic on a jealously guarded road. It was a giveaway of the construction that is under way on 991 acres of land.

The construction site is Cheniere Energy’s Corpus Christi liquefaction facility.

“This is the big concern to people and members of the public,” said environmental attorney Charles Irvine. “Are these things going to blow up? Thankfully, very few of them blow up, but some of them do.”

CHANNEL 5 NEWS went to the Cheniere construction site. A spokesperson for the company had no comment for our story. We dug into federal records to learn more about the project.

Federal regulators put together an environmental impact statement on Cheniere’s Corpus Christi project. They found that the project will have impacts on air and water quality. The regulators are also satisfied that the company is answering each of their concerns.

The analysis is more than 150 pages long. It covers every aspect of the project.

Wetlands, wildlife, endangered species, air and water quality, operational safety and the overall impact on nearby communities, including economic benefits are covered in the analysis.

One quote from the analysis states, “The greatest potential for an impact on groundwater would be an accidental release of hazardous substances, such as fuels, lubricants, and coolants, while constructing and operating the terminal facilities.”

Cheniere satisfied regulators with a spill prevention and response plan. FERC said operation of the plant would produce potentially deadly greenhouse gases. The amounts of pollution produced by the plant would not violate national air quality standards.

Regulators said,”...impacts on vegetation, animals and other public welfare concerns would not be significant."

A leak at an LNG facility is called loss of containment. FERC said if this happens, chemical vapor may form a toxic or flammable cloud.

In spite of safety and environmental concerns, FERC approved the Cheniere project in Corpus Christi.

Federal regulators required several safety modifications to the Corpus Christi plant. The company also agreed to create and preserve 269 acres of shallow water habitat.

The Sierra Club is challenging FERC’s approval of the project in federal court. Earlier this year, one FERC official said the agency has never rejected a company’s application to build an LNG facility because of concerns or complaints from members of a nearby community.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS dug into the safety history of LNG facilities in the United States and overseas.

Federal records showed that in 1944, a fire at an LNG plant in Cleveland, Ohio killed 128 people and injured at least 200 more. In 1979, gas vapors ignited at a plant in Lusby, Maryland and killed one worker. In 2004, a blast at a plant in Algeria killed 27 people and injured 56.

In 2014, an explosion and fire took place at a facility in Plymouth, Washington. A federal report only indicates no members of the public were injured. The cause of that blast remains under investigation.

The future of liquefied natural gas in the Rio Grande Valley is still uncertain. CHANNEL 5 NEWS will follow the process every step of the way.

Link: FERC Environmental Impact Statement on Corpus Christi LNG Project