Corpus Christi LNG Is An Environmental Injustice In Texas’ Coastal Bend

Reposted from Sierra Club's national blog.

Corpus Christi LNG tanker ship leaving Port of Corpus Christi Bay. Photo by Bekah Hinojosa

Corpus Christi LNG tanker ship leaving Port of Corpus Christi Bay. Photo by Bekah Hinojosa

By: Rebekah Hinojosa, Sierra Club; Elida Castillo, Chispa TX; Chloe Torres and Brandon Marks, Texas Campaign for the Environment; Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend; Clean Economy Coalition

The Coastal Bend region in Texas is home to generations of Latine communities, including Corpus Christi, which is known to many as the home of Selena, the beloved Queen of Tejano music, has arguably some of the most delicious Tex-Mex cuisine in the state, and a beautiful coastline that everyone can enjoy. It’s also home to the Karankawa Kadla tribe, a leader in the resistance to fossil fuel extraction on the Gulf Coast—and the exploitation of land and people that comes with it.

The Gulf Coast is under threat from a proposed massive buildout of fracked gas infrastructure. Part of that is playing out in the small town of Gregory, Texas, where Corpus Christi LNG is located, and has greatly experienced the negative effects of industry for its small size. Just a few years ago, after decades in operation, an aluminum manufacturer shut down and left a superfund site behind. Now Gregory, and other communities in San Patricio County will be more like their “urban” neighbor, Corpus Christi, which has suffered the impacts of petrochemical and fossil fuel pollution for decades. Cheniere, the owners of Corpus Christi LNG, a massive fracked gas export facility, are working to expand the site - and further endangering Coastal Bend residents, ecosystems, and our climate.

What is Corpus Christi LNG?

Corpus Christi LNG, owned by the super-polluting fossil fuel corporation Cheniere, is a massive fracked gas “LNG” (liquified natural gas, in industry terms) facility built in 2018 that occupies over 1,000 acres of towering storage tanks, flare stacks, and tanker ships in the Port of Corpus and has an expansive 22 mile-long pipeline network.

Cheniere wants to expand, despite Corpus Christi LNG current facilities already having permits to emit toxic levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which cause detrimental harm to public health and ecosystems. Cheniere’s proposed expansion would increase the facility’s export capacity by two-thirds. Texans would continue to bear the environmental burden that comes with fracked gas extraction, while the project’s benefits would mostly flow to Europe. In 2020, the largest portions of LNG were exported to Spain and the UK, followed by Brazil, China, Japan, and South Korea.

Corpus Christi LNG is creating a major public health and environmental crisis in the Coastal Bend.

Despite their poor environmental record, Corpus Christi LNG was able to achieve a Final Investment Decision (FID) earlier this year after reaching a deal with the French company Engie, so France could import gas out of the Gulf. Engie believes that the emissions from Corpus Christi LNG would be much lower, which allowed the French firm to justify the deal. However, Corpus Christi LNG’s emissions would be anything but low. The expansion would emit an additional estimated 51 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, equivalent to the annual emissions from nearly 14 coal plants or 11 million cars.

Engie’s deal with Cheniere would allow the facility to expand its operations – which would exacerbate environmental issues that have been caused by industry pollution. For example, shortly after being constructed in 2018, the LNG facility became the second-worst emitter of nitrogen oxides in Texas for releasing nearly 200,000 pounds, which is a violation of their air permit. Exposure to nitrogen oxides can cause eye and skin irritation, difficulty breathing, asthma and even harm the respiratory system.

Corpus Christi LNG also plans on using water from widely opposed desalination plants that would dump harmful brine into the bay that endangers sea life and the vitality of the coastal waters. More pollution facts here. Because Engie and Cheniere struck this questionable deal, Corpus Christi LNG is now in stage 3 or “shovel-ready,” where planning and engineering are advanced enough that with sufficient funding, the construction can begin with their export expansion within a short time.

Corpus Christi LNG is not a good neighbor to communities in the Coastal Bend.

Latine, Indigneous, and low-income communities that live near the LNG terminals bear the brunt of these pollution events. Corpus Christi LNG has a history of air quality violations, especially with excess flaring which burns off lots of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases like methane. Corpus Christi has already increased its permitted flaring emissions three times and has submitted a request for another increase. This pollution is not far from the communities surrounding it; people living near these plants have reported seeing flares from their windows.

Like many fracked gas corporations trying to pose as the “good neighbors,” Corpus Christi LNG pretends to be a philanthropic company, but they receive way more money than they have ever given. Corpus Christi LNG has been estimated to receive $56.5 million per year in tax breaks through the Texas Chapter 313 program alone and would receive additional tax breaks from San Patricio County through Chapter 312 for their expansion. On Corpus Christi LNG’s website, they say they’ve given only $16,000 to local charities over half a decade – a drop in the bucket for a company that got an estimated $857 million in Chapter 313 tax breaks that could have gone to schools, healthcare, public infrastructure or even repairing the environment they’ve impacted.

From Corpus Christi to Brunsbüttel, communities are resisting fracked gas infrastructure

In June 2021, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, and Coastal Bend environmental justice organization Portland Citizens United, filed comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regarding Corpus Christi LNG’s air pollution permit application. The environmental organizations requested a public contested case hearing on this permit so they could mobilize the community to voice their concerns about the LNG facility’s negative impacts on their health and environment. More recently, in May 2022, Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to challenge the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decision to extend the air pollution permit that would allow construction of an expansion to the current facility.

In July of last year, a delegation of community members from the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend regions in South Texas traveled to Germany to join the protest and demonstrations of Ende Gelände against the proposed Brunsbüttel LNG terminal that plans to import gas from Corpus Christi LNG. This German LNG project is a travesty for their people. It would be funded with millions of dollars of public money that could be better spent on the clean energy transition. Experts agree that it won't provide immediate benefit to the German economy or have an immediate economic benefit for Germany. As a result of international opposition, the German LNG project is experiencing significant hurdles. A major investor has stepped back from the project and it is facing delays obtaining environmental permits.

Photo of Ende Gelände International protests and demonstrations at the proposed site of the  Brunsbüttel LNG terminal, July 31, 2021. Photo by: Ende GeländePhoto of Ende Gelände International protests and demonstrations at the proposed site of the  Brunsbüttel LNG terminal, July 31, 2021. Photo by: Ende Gelände

Photo of Ende Gelände International protests and demonstrations at the proposed site of the Brunsbüttel LNG terminal, July 31, 2021. Photo by: Ende Gelände.

The US must move toward a clean energy economy, and we need international allies to support our transition by refusing new polluting infrastructure here and abroad. More gas exports out of the Gulf Coast do not benefit the country and turn communities along the fracking cycle, from extraction to export, into sacrifice zones to polluting industry. The German Energy Minister Peter Altmaier called the proposed Brunsbüttel terminal “a gesture to our American friends.” But let’s be clear: it’s a gesture for fossil fuel companies only. Our communities deserve better.

That’s why community members from the Coastal Bend are meeting with EPA Region 6 Administrator Dr. Nance on June 10 to share their stories and demand accountability from regulatory agencies and the fossil fuel industry. Their experiences include seeing the giant torch-like flare stack from Corpus Christi LNG from their windows, the LNG tanker ships speeding dangerously close to Portland homes, and the consistent explosions and water contamination from the oil & gas industry. But people like Dr. Nance help lead agencies that make incredibly important decisions that have real life impacts on local people’s health and environment. That’s why it’s critical that Dr. Nance visits these areas and hears from community members directly, and then incorporates their lived experiences and suggestions into decision making. This is how environmental justice for people of the Coastal Bend can actually happen.