Border Business Could Cost the Texas Economy

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A man stands in front of the Shahamah liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker berthed at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Futtsu gas-fired thermal power plant in Futtsu Chiba Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A man stands in front of the Shahamah liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker berthed at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Futtsu gas-fired thermal power plant in Futtsu Chiba

It looks like it's construction season in South Texas. Along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, 31 miles of wall may soon be going up and companies are wading through the final paperwork for building liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in the Port of Brownsville.

At first glance, these two major projects may not seem to be related, beyond dominating local news and promising dramatic results in either region’s security or economy. Yet both of these projects will affect the Rio Grande Valley’s economic, landowner, and environmental interests, and locals' concerns have been largely given short shrift.

Along the border, the construction push has picked up momentum in recent months and attracted its share of controversy. Beyond opposition surrounding the border wall for political or fiscal reasons, this particular stretch of land slices through some of South Texas’ most cherished sites, including the 2,088-acre renowned Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge that is home to more than 400 bird species and a sanctuary for monarch butterflies migrating back and forth from the United States to Mexico. The border wall’s logistics have been largely settled as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shifted around its budget to find funding and initial preparations appear to be underway.

Meanwhile, along the Port of Brownsville, three companies are moving through the final regulatory stages for constructing LNG export terminals that would load the gas onto tankers and ship it to all corners of the world. After the shale boom pushed companies to look toward exporting rather than importing natural gas, these export terminals have been moving through the regulatory process for years.

Both projects, however, come with costs and controversies. In the case of the border wall, Valley residents – as well as all Americans – are literally paying for the construction through taxpayer dollars. Yet, many residents are also paying the cost of having the barrier built atop their private land and shouldering the burden of fighting the government for fair compensation. Then there are the economic consequences for local shops, restaurants, and hotels that come when tourists, scientists, and bird watchers stop making the trip to these wildlife refuges to look for rare migratory birds or observe the butterflies.

The LNG terminals also bring their own concerns. Ironically, for a project that promises an abundance of high-tech jobs, the project’s biggest risk appears to be destroying other jobs in the process. Commercial fishing and shrimping, as well as beach tourism stand to be hit the hardest. Brownsville’s shrimp trawlers, for example, take in 13 to 15 million pounds of shrimp every year, and have complained that the LNG terminals’ construction into the marshes and wetlands could endanger their economic livelihood. This concern is compounded by commercial fishermen and shrimpers' potentially restricted movement around the port, as LNG export terminals expect to receive 10 tankers a week, each blocking port traffic for around three hours.

Securing our borders and supporting economic development are important priorities, but for projects of this magnitude there should be a robust and transparent local, state, and national debate. We should not get caught up in thinking that a wall is the only way to secure our borderlands – as U.S. Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), as well as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) have persuasively argued in recent days – given the less intrusive, technological options that also could do the job. Nor should we green-light LNG terminals just because there are possible energy jobs hanging in the balance, since they could have repercussions across unrelated sectors.

These are complicated decisions that deserve to be treated as such, with residents and their representatives clearly and publicly weighing in on both the short-term and long-term benefits and costs. Whether its local residents who are learning more about the projects or regulators in Austin and D.C. that are reviewing the projects, the time to be asking the tough questions is now.

3 thoughts on “Border Business Could Cost the Texas Economy

  1. Proposed Border Wall construction and LNG export operations in deep South Texas threaten Rio Grande Valley economic health and National Wildlife Centers.

    BORDER WALL:

    Construction could start on a segment of the wall as early as this November 2017 that would endanger the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center, and the historic La Lomita Chapel.  Preparation for the construction was secretly initiated as early as January 2017 and may resume any day now under Border Patrol protection on the Butterfly Center’s privately owned property.

    On 08-02-2017, the City of Brownsville passed a resolution opposing the Border Wall and all it represents.  A demonstration was held at the Chapel 08-12-2017 followed by a 08-13-2017 demonstration at the Refuge (where 683 held hands in opposition to the wall).  Now the push is on to get every city in the Rio Grande Valley to pass resolutions opposing the wall.

    To keep up to date on the National Butterfly Center’s fight against the wall and to help it  raise $100,000 for legal fees, go to https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/stop-trump-s-border-wall

    To stay up to date and join in the fight against the wall at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, visit, friend, and follow “Save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge” at https://www.facebook.com/savesantaana/.

    LNG:

    The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, next door to South Padre Island, is also threatened by three LNG export companies seeking Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permission to build and operate at our local Port of Brownsville.  They’re also a threat to the Bahia Grande (the largest wetlands restoration project in North America and to a critical US-Mexico wildlife corridor), to our health, and to our thriving ecotourism economies, etc.

    In addition, Enbridge’s Valley Crossing Pipeline is presently under construction here without any prior public notice or public meetings to take natural/fracked gas to Mexico under our Gulf waters.  Also CMG II, LLC, is presently seeking a TCEQ Air Quality Permit to build a Heavy Condensate Upgrader Facility at our Port.  It plans to get the condensate from West Texas by running two condensate trains a day through a number of our local communities, 120 rail tanker cars each, each full of highly flammable condensate.

    To help us fight these companies and other such threats to our health, environment, and local economies, visit, friend, and follow saveRGVfromLNG at https://www.facebook.com/saveRGVfromLNG.

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