Carbon capture technology won’t be enough to reduce pollution created by proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project
While the world is moving away from building new fossil fuel developments, a company in Texas has its sights on constructing a new one. The developer NextDecade wants to build a $10-billion dollar liquefied natural gas (or LNG) export facility on the Gulf Coast. LNG is natural gas that’s been cooled down into liquid form so it can be easily transported. The proposed project, known as Rio Grande LNG, is being touted as the greenest LNG project in the world and that’s in part because it will supposedly feature a carbon capture and storage system.
Brownsville, Texas resident Bekah Hinojosa, says using a carbon capture and storage system as a way to curb the massive amounts of pollution caused by a project of this scale is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole.
“Carbon capture is greenwashing,” she explains.
“They're trying to green up their image, but really, carbon capture storage technology for LNG is unproven and untested. No matter what they do to Rio Grande LNG, it is still highly destructive for our climate and should never be built.”
Hinojosa is the senior gulf coast campaigns representative for the Sierra Club and is also with the organization Another Gulf is Possible. She says LNG projects, including the proposed Rio Grande LNG, are extremely harmful for both the environment and the health and well-being of local residents.
“Our communities are extremely opposed to these projects,” she explains.
“South Padre Island, Port Isabel, numerous communities have passed resolutions against these projects.”
Hinojosa says there is another aspect of proposed LNG projects which has many Brownsville residents alarmed.
“Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG are planning to build these gas plants right next door to the exploding SpaceX rockets,” she says.
Those safety concerns only compound community fears about the disastrous impact of more toxic pollution on an already strained population.
“They would release massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate climate change impacts [and] would also release toxic air pollution into our low-income communities that don't have good access to health care,” she points out.
The toxic air pollution Hinojosa refers to includes cancer causing emissions like benzene, and volatile organic compounds or VOCs. VOCs can cause a variety of damaging health effects, from eye, nose, and throat irritation to damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.
For Hinojosa and other Brownsville residents, there is a general feeling that despite their vocal opposition to LNG projects and SpaceX, community concerns go largely ignored. She says it’s as though these powerful companies and industries deny the community even exists.
“SpaceX is a very clear example of environmental racism. Elon Musk went to the news and said, 'Oh, if it blows up there, it's cool because nobody lives there.' And that's not true,” she says.
Hinojosa wants to send a clear message that her and other fenceline and frontline communities around the country are not invisible.
“Communities of color exist. This is erasure. This is him saying that we don't exist. A private corporation testing explosive rockets and destroying wildlife and taking away beach access from native people like the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe, from low-income communities of color, that is textbook environmental racism.”
Hinjosa says the community is tired of being sacrificed and having their concerns ignored, especially when the residents are already overburdened by many different inequities.
“We are on the frontlines of border militarization. We're surrounded by the border wall, overpoliced and over-militarized by a border patrol,” she explains.
“We don't have reproductive rights. We are a low-income community with low access to health care. People here need access to basic needs,” she explains, “Things like better infrastructure.”
“We're already now dealing with the issue of SpaceX explosions. People's houses are shaking. There are particulates falling on them when SpaceX has rocket mishaps. What's left of our wildlife is being burned down by SpaceX or being destroyed by border wall construction. And now we're facing yet another environmental disaster.”
The question Hinojosa is left wondering is where all these environmental injustices will leave the people of Brownsville.
“When will we see a true investment in the things that help our people?” she asks.
For further insight, check out our podcast episode “Bag Bans and Border Wall” with Tricia Cortez, Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, Texas. Cortez was part of a group that won a groundbreaking battle against the Trump administration regarding plans to build a 30-ft steel wall through her hometown.
This story is part of a People over Plastic investigative series that examines key environmental justice issues in America’s Gulf South. The series will feature stories about BIPOC and low-income communities living in the shadow of petrochemical production. Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.