Destroying Our Coastal Wetlands for Gas Export Profit: The Valley Crossing Pipeline

December 20, 2016

 

Spectra’s proposed 42-inch natural gas Valley Crossing pipeline (VCPL) would slice through South Texas farms, communities and natural areas for 140 miles, negatively affecting landowners and causing environmental damage in Nueces, Kleberg, Kenedy, Willacy, and Cameron Counties (see complete notice and map file). The gas it transports would not be used domestically, but would instead be shipped overseas via the Texas LNG export terminal or piped to Mexico via the Sur de Texas-Tuxpan Pipeline, which is proposed run along the Gulf seafloor to Veracruz.  

 

The express purpose of the VCPL is to export gas to Mexico. As such, it should not be designated as an intrastate pipeline, and its entire length should be subject to federal environmental review.

 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refuses to study the environmental and economic impacts of the full extent of the pipeline, because they are allowing Spectra to claim that VCPL is an intrastate pipeline, despite the fact that it is being built for the export of natural gas. Because of this designation, an environmental impact statement is not required for the full length of the line, and FERC is only accepting comments and motions to intervene for the 1,000 feet of pipeline that will cross the U.S.-Mexico border (see map below). The rest of the pipeline is under the approval authority of the Texas Railroad Commission and not subject to the same level of environmental review.

 

As VCPL is clearly an export project whose main customer is the state-owned electric utility company of Mexico, the entire 140-mile-long pipeline should undergo the federal regulatory process.

 

 

 

Spectra should not be allowed to claim public benefit for private profits and use eminent domain to seize the land of South Texas families.

 

By claiming that the project benefits the public, the company can force VCPL through private property. Landowners who refuse the company right-of-way could have the rights to their land seized by eminent domain. A large pipeline running through their land could be an extreme hardship, especially for working families and small farmers. Their property values will decline and those who live in the pipeline’s blast zone will be at increased risk.

 

Analysts have determined that exporting natural gas is good for the gas companies but bad for the public. Gas exports will raise domestic gas prices, which in turn will discourage U.S. manufacturing and lead to the loss of jobs. Higher gas prices will also hurt consumers by driving up home energy rates and prices for consumer goods.

 

We shouldn’t trust our safety to the Railroad Commission and Spectra.

 

Texas has more miles of natural gas transmission pipelines than any other state. Large transmission pipeline accidents do occur, with close to 1,000 happening since 1995, and the National Transportation and Safety Board found that intrastate pipelines like the Valley Crossing Pipeline have a 27% higher incident rate than the interstate pipelines which are regulated at the federal level.

In fact, the state regulatory agency which would inspect the Valley Crossing Pipeline is the Texas Railroad Commission, which does not have enough pipeline inspectors.  In their 2016-2017 appeal to the Texas legislature, the agency stated that need 41.5 new pipeline inspectors, and cited the dangers of pipeline explosions. The legislature only granted funding for 10 inspectors, leaving the agency understaffed.

 

Spectra has a terrible history of pipeline explosions and poor management. Just this year, a 30-inch pipeline operated by Spectra exploded due to corrosion in Salem, Pennsylvania resulting in a 12-foot hole blown into the ground, 40-acres scorched, and a man barely escaping alive with burns on over 75% of his body.

Big natural gas transmission pipelines could mean big risks for the public.

All natural gas pipelines are at risk for explosions and leaks. At 42-inches and at high pressure, the VCPL could have a blast radius of over half a mile. It would be located alongside Highway 48, possibly in the same right-of way with Rio Bravo Pipeline which is a double 42-inch pipeline proposed by Rio Grande LNG to feed their LNG export terminal. This puts the public highway itself and all port businesses in a very large, three-pipeline impact zone. 

 

If the proposed LNG export terminals are built two of them, Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG, would be completely within the half-mile impact zone of the VCPL.  Both of these facilities transport, store, and handle flammable and explosive chemicals such as propane, ethane, and butane, in addition to vast quantities of LNG.  A pipeline rupture alongside the plants would increase the risk of subsequent and potentially even more devastating explosions. If the VCPL is co-located with the double 42-inch Rio Bravo Pipeline, any blast could trigger multiple line ruptures and an almost unthinkable catastrophe. 

 

Corrosion is a major cause of pipeline incidents, and the soils in our area are highly corrosive. Texas LNG’s own report noted that they would have to consult a corrosion engineer because steel, metal and concrete elements in contact with the soil would be subject to degradation. (Texas LNG Docket CP 16-116 Resource Report 6

 

 

The pipeline’s path threatens sensitive wetland areas and valuable marine nurseries.

 

The pipeline will punch through some of the most valuable coastal habitat in the Texas. The company plans to drill underneath the Bahia Grande Restoration Channel, the gateway to the 22,000-acre Bahia Grande wetland, which is still in the process of being restored as a fully functioning estuary. They also intend to lay pipe under South Bay, which is so valuable that it became the first coastal preserve designated in the state of Texas. It’s also a popular fishing area and home to a large oyster bed. With a cleared right-of-way of 75 feet, the mangrove habitats will be permanently cleared and smaller wetlands may be filled, and runoff from the project site may affect larger bodies of water.

 

 

Noisy compressor stations will pollute our water and our air.

 

VCPL will require two massive compressor stations, one in Nueces County, and another in Cameron County on the shore of San Martin Lake.  Compressor stations are notoriously dirty, emitting nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide which can acidify water, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are carcinogens. To relieve pressure the compressor stations will at times vent methane directly into the air in an event known as blow-down creating loud noise which can be heard from miles away. A compressor station certainly does not belong next to a fishing lake and important aquatic nursery.

 

Valley Crossing Pipeline could destroy import historical sites.

 

The Valley Crossing Pipeline company lists four nationally registered historical sites that the pipeline will be built through: King Ranch National Historic District, Palo Alto Battlefield, Garcia Pasture site, and the Brazos Santiago District. These sites are known to have Native American cemeteries, remains of a pre-Colombian village, and other precious artifacts.

 

Make your voice heard!

  • Submit a comment to FERC at https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp using Docket No. CP17-19-000

  • File a motion to intervene and reserve your right to sue. Go to https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp

  • Be prepared for upcoming hearings and other opportunities to get involved.

 

 

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