Residents oppose oil projects at Brownsville port

Brownsville Ship Channel at the port.

BROWNSVILLE — At a public meeting hosted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on May 28, environmentalists spoke out against an oil-and-gas logistics company’s plans for the Port of Brownsville.

The meeting was intended to solicit public comment as part of TCEQ’s process for evaluating JupiterMLP’s air permit application for a proposed dockside terminal operation at the port that would include a facility for processing light crude oil into gasoline and ultra-low-sulfur diesel.

Approval of the company’s air permit application would allow it to proceed with construction. According to TCEQ, the facility would emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, organic compounds, particulate matter and sulfur dioxides “in a significant amount.” It will also emit hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid mist and contaminants classified as “hazardous air pollutants,” according to the agency’s notice for the May 28 meeting.

TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker has completed the review of Jupiter’s application and prepared a draft permit, which if approved would set operating conditions for Jupiter’s operation, the agency said. Baker determined that emissions subject to TCEQ review “would not violate any state or federal air quality regulations and will not have any significant adverse impact on soils, vegetation, or visibility,” according to the notice. “Best available control technology” will be used to control the contaminants, TCEQ said.

Jupiter announced a year ago that it had secured all the necessary permits for loading and unloading Panamax-sized vessels at the port’s liquid cargo dock. “Panamax” refers to size limits for ships that pass through the Panama Canal. Jupiter announced a groundbreaking for the terminal project in September 2015, when the company’s name was Centurion Terminals LLC, though no ground has actually been broken to date, according to Eduardo Campirano, Brownsville port director and CEO.

Jupiter also plans to build 2.8 million barrels worth of storage, and possibly more, on land it leases from the port as part of the terminal operation. The company has also announced plans for a 1 million-barrel-per-day pipeline to the terminal from the Permian Basin, the largest oil field in the United States, accounting for about 68 percent of Texas’ production and 80 percent of its reserves.

The proposed 650-mile-long Jupiter Pipeline was not covered in the May 28 meeting, and TCEQ does not have jurisdiction over such projects. However, the company announced in October that it had secured funding commitment from Charon System Advisors sufficient to build the pipeline, which would feed Jupiter’s processing facility at the port.

Brownsville residents including members of the Sierra Club and SaveRGVfromLNG voiced opposition to Jupiter’s proposals during the TCEQ public meeting, with Rebekah Hinojosa of the local Sierra Club chapter saying the organization is firmly against the proposed pipeline and terminal.

“Jupiter oil terminal and pipeline is one of the many fossil fuel burning companies targeting our coast,” she said. “Our communities do not want to become a sacrifice zone so the oil and gas industry can make a profit, make a mess and leave our communities and our coasts more vulnerable and exposed to harmful pollution that directly infect our air and water.”

Bill Berg of SaveRGVfromLNG said the fossil fuels are destroying the Texas coast and that South Padre Island, one of the state’s last beaches not damaged by the petrochemical industry, is vulnerable.

“It is sad to see the Port of Brownsville becoming a fossil fuel port,” he said.

Jupiter said earlier this year that it expected the pipeline to begin operations by the fourth quarter of 2020. The company also plans to apply for permits to build a terminal six miles offshore from South Padre Island to accommodate VLCC (very large crude carrier) vessels.

Campirano said the port has an agreement with Jupiter for construction of a terminal operation but nothing more, which means a pipeline won’t happen “anytime soon.”

“As I understood it, the air quality permit pertained to the original application for a liquid terminal operation, which would receive commodity over the dock, either in or out,” he said.

“There’s still much more to do if all the other stuff is going to progress. … We’ve had numerous meetings about various issues. They’re basically exploring, investigating and doing due diligence on these other matters. Whether they come to bear remains to be seen.”

Public comments to TCEQ about the Jupiter project can still be made online at www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/. The permit number for Jupiter is 147681. The greenhouse gas permit number is GHGPSDTX172.