After years of delays, an industrial developer said this week that it has secured funding to proceed with construction of a massive new gas liquefaction plant and export terminal in the wild greenfields and wetlands of the Rio Grande delta.
Seven such LNG export terminals have cropped up on U.S. coastlines in the last seven years, according to the Energy Information Agency. Another three are under construction and another 11 have been approved by federal regulators.
Along with the Rio Grande terminal, the planned Rio Bravo Pipeline will deliver 4.5 billion cubic feet of Permian gas per day to the South Texas coast, where compressor trains at Rio Grande LNG will super-cool the gas to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit and then load it onto ocean-going tankers for sale overseas. The facility will occupy 750 acres of greenfield, including 182 acres of wetlands, on a 984-acre waterfront tract.
Initially scheduled for completion in 2023, yearslong delays have plagued the project. Campaigns by local activists and indigenous leaders prompted three French banks, SMBC Group, BNP Paribas and Société Générale, to withdraw their financial commitments. Three nearby municipalities of Laguna Vista, South Padre Island and Port Isabel adopted resolutions opposing the project.
A federal court ordered regulators to modify the conditions of their approval following challenges
by local organizers who hoped to preserve the Rio Grande Delta as the last major inlet on the Gulf Coast of Texas still free from fossil fuel facilities like refineries, chemical plants and terminals.
“The oil and gas companies and the politicians can’t find it in their hearts to keep the industry in an industrial space,” said Lela Burnell, the daughter of a shrimper in the Port of Brownsville and the plaintiff in multiple lawsuits against plans for Rio Grande LNG. “Why do they feel like they need to just inundate and take over the whole coast? They don’t want to leave one spot where there is a sanctuary or a safe zone for nature.”
In the last century, fossil fuel projects have cropped up on almost every major inlet of the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana — from “Cancer Alley,” where the Mississippi River meets the sea, to refinery sectors in Lake Charles, Port Arthur and Houston, where the nation’s largest petrochemical complex lines 44 miles of Galveston Bay.