Desalination: The Chemical Industry’s Demand for Water in Texas
Two years ago, we published our first look at present and future impacts of the petrochemical industry on the Corpus Christi region of Southeastern Texas. We called this story map and short film “Channels of Life: The Gulf Coast Buildout in Texas” (See map below) and that project was largely funded by the good people at the Coastal Alliance to Protect Our Environment (CAPE). During that trip to the region, we learned about the petrochemical industry’s grand plans for nearly a dozen desalination facilities (often referred to as “desal” facilities) that they would need to expand their “cracker” and refinery infrastructure throughout the region.
Today, the threat desalination facilities pose to fragile ecosystems in Southeastern Texas continue as the industry pushes regulatory agencies for permits to begin construction. In this article, we provide an update about recent events in the ongoing fight against “desal” in the Corpus Christi region.
Channels of Life: The Gulf Coast Buildout in TX
This StoryMap illustrates the impacts of oil and gas infrastructure from San Antonio down to Corpus Christi and then up the Gulf Coast to Houston with detailed information and locations for proposed petrochemical infrastructure in the Corpus Christi Bay region, including proposed desalination plants and their proposed daily water usage and brine production.
Place your cursor over the image and scroll down to advance the StoryMap.
Click on the icon in the bottom left to view the legend.
Scroll to the end of the StoryMap to learn more and access the data sources.
View Full Size Map | Updated 9/19/2022 | Map Tutorial
With names like Cheniere, Exxon, Sabic, Flint Hills Resources involved in these proposals, why would anyone have a need to worry? Well, the answer is that everyone that lives within the greater Nueces River Basin has been extremely worried about these desal proposals and their likely impact on the quality and quantity of water available to them, the region’s prized fisheries, and the ecological jewel of the region, the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, home to the last refuges of the Whooping Crane and Pink Spoonbill (the latter’s viability long-term is already extremely tenuous and well documented). Another example of how these facilities would greatly compromise the region and its estuaries is the fact that effluent from just one of these desalination plants on Harbor Island “…will be discharged via pipe directly to Corpus Christi Bay in Segment No. 2481 of the Bays and Estuaries. The designated uses for Segment No. 2481 are primary recreation, exceptional aquatic life use, and oyster waters.”
The desalination proposals would have a combined intake of 317 billion gallons per year and a brine discharge volume of 213 billion gallons dramatically altering the volume of the water in the bay as well as, and maybe more importantly, the salinity of an already fragile ecosystem.
Even in the face of significant resistance the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in concert with the former President Trump’s EPA was in the process of fast tracking all these proposals under the guise of economic progress and reducing the friction that was in place in other parts of The Gulf and the country for petrochemical expansion. However, with a change in administration, the US EPA pivoted and decided to send the TCEQ a “Notice of Termination – Permit Review Waiver for Desalination Facility Permits” almost a year ago to the day. For a review of this notice please refer to our analysis of this development last November.
According to CAPE lead organizer Errol Summerlin, the primary issue is the fact that TCEQ considers every single discharge into the waters of Texas as minor. This treatment of massive industrial discharges as “minor” by TCEQ was the primary aspect of these projects that sparked the ire of the EPA. Those in opposition to this permit are suggesting that TCEQ must change its policy so that all discharge rates are not rubber stamped as minor. The determination of whether a discharge is major or minor can be distilled down to the following six factors according to CAPE’s Errol Summerlin (For more on these factors and the TCEQ scoring of the this project refer to the file labeled “1 – TCEQ Completed Major Minor WS (1)” in the relevant documents Box folder listed below):
- Toxic potential of “process wastewater” (Roughly how toxic would a given source of wastewater be given the industrial process involved)
- Opponents point out that this score of 0 is dubious at best.
- Flow Volume
- Opponents contest the flow volume assumptions being limited to Type III Flow > Million Gallons Per Day (MGD) (See Page 1 of 1 – TCEQ Completed Major Minor WS (1)).
- Amount of “conventional pollutants” (amount of certain pollutants particularly statutorily recognized in the 1972 Clean Water Act Amendments)
- Public health impact (Is there a drinking water supply nearby?)
- Water quality factors (prior problems of receiving waters)
- Proximity to certain protected estuaries
- Opponents contest this score of 4.5 primarily because this factor is almost entirely a function of Flow Volume above and the fact that this proposal would have a dramatic impact on the “Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program” which is one of 28 designated estuaries that are part of the EPA’s own “National Estuary Program Study Areas” (See National Estuary Program (NEP) map here).
Those that are in opposition to the TCEQ permitting process for desalination facilities have pointed out that, “EPA regulations basically say that ‘in coordination with the state’ the EPA regional administrator can exercise discretion to declare any discharge he or she wants to as a ‘major’ source. That’s part of what renders TCEQ’s position so ridiculous on this. As we see it, if the EPA Regional Administrator says a source is major, then it’s major. Period.”
For more detail on the points being raised by the groups opposing this process read a brief, non-technical explanation of the major/minor classification issues written by Errol Summerlin at the folder below labeled “Email_CorpusChristi_Desalination_MajorMinor” and for a detailed outline of the US EPA’s criteria for major and minor discharges refer to the document labeled “EPA_Major_Minor_Discharge_Worksheet_Instructions.pdf” in the link at the bottom of this piece.
Needless to say, this letter had a chilling effect on the petrochemical’s assumed route of the Corpus Christi area in the name of plastics production, LNG export, and all manner of related profit streams. It is an example of what the federal government has a mandate to do in actually flexing that muscle in the face of overwhelming industry lobbying and financial might especially in a state where nearly every agency has been extremely cozy with the industry since their inception.
Now we have the latest missive from the EPA to the TCEQ in the form of a letter written at the close of business just over a week ago today. In her letter to the TCEQ chairman Jon Niermann EPA Region 6 administrator Dr. Earthea Nance wrote:
As noted in our March 1, 2022, letter, if the TCEQ issues TPDES Permit No. TX0138347 (WQ0005253000) to the POCC without responding to the EPA’s Interim Objection or providing the EPA an opportunity to review the proposed permit in violation of the provisions of CWA Section 402, the implementing regulations at 40 C.F.R. Part § 123, and the Memorandum of Agreement, the EPA’s position will be that it is not a validly issued final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
As you may be aware, Section 316(b) of the CWA and its implementing regulations establish requirements and conditions for cooling water intake structures where water is withdrawn from a water of the United States for cooling purposes. These requirements address the design, construction, and location of intake structures and technology used to minimize adverse environmental impacts to aquatic life. It is the EPA’s understanding that the TCEQ concluded that the facility does not propose to use water for cooling purposes and therefore is not subject to the requirements of CWA § 316(b). However, the EPA has questions/concerns regarding the current and/or future use of water withdrawals from the facility’s intake structure and its continued compliance with CWA § 316(b).
Dr. Nance knows of what she writes having already had an exemplary career as a researcher, prior to being named Region 6 administrator by President Biden, at Texas Southern and the University of New Orleans looking at “the intersection of environmental hazards, community participation, and urban infrastructure in complex settings such as vulnerable communities, developing countries, and high-hazard areas.”
As CAPE lead organizer Errol Summerlin wrote in an email to concerned citizens regarding Region 6’s suggestion that Bluewater Texas Terminals withdraw and revise its permit application:
“This second statement addresses the issue that we have been raising about all of the Water Rights Permits being sought by the Port and the City and which they refuse to acknowledge…the water from these desal operations will go to industry, which will use the region’s “new” water supply for cooling and purposes.”
During the TCEQ Commissioners hearing on September 7, 2022, Craig Bennett, the lawyer for the protestants including the Port Aransas Conservancy (PAC) and CAPE, pointed out that nine of the state’s most highly qualified aquatic ecologists and water quality experts have testified that the Bluewater proposal, and by association all industry desalination proposals in the region, is a horrible idea. Even the state’s own Office of Public Insurance Counsel stressed its continued opposition to the Bluewater desalination proposal (51:30 here) as did Texas’ Parks and Wildlife Department.
After several hours of debate and hearing from lawyers in favor of and opposed to the permit, the commission voted for a two-week continuation on this particular issue. Interestingly, towards the end of this hearing, PAC lawyer Craig Bennett indicated that PAC would stand down if the discharged brine were piped offshore and while this would do much to address the impacts of brine on The Bay and its fragile estuaries not all opponents are united with PAC in viewing such a concession as enough.
Figure 1. Phillips 66, Dow Chemicals, and Hunstman Petrochemical Complex, Freeport, Texas.
The Take Away
We will continue to update our coverage of the Corpus Christi fight with the EPA and the industry’s growing and seemingly unquenchable demand for water in The Gulf. Until then, we encourage our audience to review all relevant documents for this case at the link below and head on over to the extremely informative websites of the Port Aransas Conservancy and CAPE.
References & Where to Learn More
Topics in This Article:
Join the Conversation
Support Our Work
FracTracker Alliance helps communicate the risks of oil and gas and petrochemical development to advance just energy alternatives that protect public health, natural resources, and the climate.
By contributing to FracTracker, you are helping to make tangible changes, such as decreasing the number of oil and gas wells in the US, protecting the public from toxic and radioactive chemicals, and stopping petrochemical expansion into vulnerable communities.
Your donations help fund the sourcing and analysis of new data so that we can keep you informed and continually update our resources.
Please donate to FracTracker today as a way to advocate for clean water, clean air, and healthy communities.
What You Should Read Next
Evaluation of the Capacity for Water Recycling for Colorado Oil and Gas Extraction Operations
Evidence Shows Oil and Gas Companies Use PFAS in New Mexico Wells
CalGEM Permit Review Q1 2023: Well Rework Permits Increase by 76% in California
Off the Rails: An Exploration of the Train Derailment in East Palestine
Worth Protecting: A photo album by Better Path Coalition and FracTracker Alliance
2022 Pipeline Incidents Update: Is Pipeline Safety Achievable?
Testimony On EPA’s Proposed Methane Pollution Standards for the Oil and Gas Industry
Assessment of Rework Permits on Oil Production from Operational Wells Within the 3,200-Foot Public Health Protection Zone
CalGEM Permit Review Q4 2022: Oil Permit Approvals Show Steep Rise Within Protective Buffer Zones
A Contentious Landscape of Pipeline Build-outs in the Eastern US
Major Gas Leak Reveals Risks of Aging Gas Storage Wells in Pennsylvania
Coursing Through Gasland: A Digital Atlas Exploring Natural Gas Development in the Towanda Creek Watershed
Falcon Pipeline Online, Begins Operations Following Violations of Clean Streams Law
Fracking and the Pennsylvania Midterm Election
Synopsis: Risks to the Greater Columbus Water Supply from Oil and Gas Production
Desalination: The Chemical Industry’s Demand for Water in Texas
Take Action in Support of No New Leases
Carbon Capture and Storage: Developments in the Law of Pore Space in North Dakota
Carbon Capture and Storage: Industry Connections and Community Impacts
Carbon Capture and Storage: Fact or Fiction?
Pipeline Right-of-Ways: Making the Connection between Forest Fragmentation and the Spread of Lyme Disease in Southwestern Pennsylvania
FracTracker Finds Widespread Hydrocarbon Emissions from Active & Idle Oil and Gas Wells and Infrastructure in California
California Regulators Approve More Oil Well Permits Amid a Crisis of Leaking Oil Wells that Should be Plugged
An Insider Take on the Appalachian Hydrogen & CCUS Conference
Does Hydrogen Have a Role in our Energy Future?
Oil and Gas Brine in Ohio
8 Maps to Strengthen Environmental Justice Policy in Pennsylvania
PA Environment Digest Blog: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Dispose Of Drill Cuttings By ‘Dusting’
Real Talk on Pipelines
2021 Production from Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Wells
Mapping Energy Systems Impacted by the Russia-Ukraine War
Dimock residents working to protect water from a new threat: fracking waste
Implications of a 3,200-foot Setback in California
Permitting Aggregate Mines in Michigan Poses Very Serious Consequences
A Guide to Petrochemicals, the Fossil Fuel Blindspot
New Trends in Drilling Permit Approvals Take Shape in CA
Oil and Gas Drilling in California Legislative Districts
Ten Things I learned from Taking Break Free From Plastic’s Toxic Tours
New Report: Fracking with “Forever Chemicals” in Colorado
Permitting Aggregate Mines under Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act
Introducing: FracTracker’s comprehensive new Pennsylvania map!
Upper Ohio River in Beaver County: Impact of Petrochemical Facility Discharge on the Community and What’s Behind This Long Battle
Petrochemical Toxics in the Ohio River Watershed
New Letter from Federal Regulators Regarding how the Falcon has Been Investigated
US Army Corps Muskingum Watershed Plan ignores local concerns of oil and gas effects
Fracking Wastewater Concerns Resurface on Pennsylvania Roads as the DEP Undergoes an Evaluation of Coproduct Determinations
Oil and gas companies use a lot of water to extract oil in drought-stricken California
Southeastern Texas Petrochemical Industry Needs 318 Billion Gallons of Water, but the US EPA Says Not So Fast
Chickahominy Pipeline project tries to exploit an apparent regulatory loophole
Map Update on Criminal Charges Facing Mariner East 2 Pipeline
It’s Time to Stop Urban Oil Drilling in Los Angeles
Infrastructure Networks in Texas
California Prisons are Within 2,500’ of Oil and Gas Extraction
New power plant proposal called senseless and wasteful by climate groups
Ongoing Safety Concerns over Shell’s Falcon Pipeline
New Neighborhood Drilling Permits Issued While California Fails to Act on Public Health Rules
The world is watching as bitcoin battle brews in the US
California Oil & Gas Drilling Permits Drop in Response to Decreased Permit Applications to CalGEM
California Denies Well Stimulation Permits
Mapping PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Oil & Gas Operations
Updated National Energy and Petrochemical Map
Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania Fracking Story Map
Ohio & Fracking Waste: The Case for Better Waste Management
Pennsylvania Conventional Well Map Update
Impacts of 2020 Colonial Pipeline Rupture Continue to Grow
Gas Storage Plan vs. Indigenous Rights in Nova Scotia
Mapping Gathering Lines in Bradford County, Pennsylvania
Trends in fracking waste coming to New York State from Pennsylvania
2021 Pipeline Incidents Update: Safety Record Not Improving
New York State Oil & Gas Well Drilling: Patterns Over Time
Risky Byhalia Connection Pipeline Threatens Tennessee & Mississippi Health, Water Supply
Shell’s Falcon Pipeline Under Investigation for Serious Public Safety Threats
The fight to protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Kern County’s Drafted EIR Will Increase the Burden for Frontline Communities
Mapping intersectionality: Empowering youth addressing plastics
Pennsylvania’s Waste Disposal Wells – A Tale of Two Datasets
California Oil & Gas Setbacks Recommendations Memo
Oil and Gas Wells on California State Lands
Industrial Impacts in Michigan: A Photo Essay & Story Map
Channels of Life: The Gulf Coast Buildout in Texas
People and Production: Reducing Risk in California Extraction
Documenting emissions from new oil and gas wells in California
Incinerators: Dinosaurs in the world of energy generation
Energy Security, International Investment, and Democracy in the US Shale Oil & Gas Industry
Straight Talk on the Future of Fracking Jobs in Pennsylvania
Mariner East 2 Causes Dozens of Spills Since Lockdown Began, Over 300 in Total
New York State Closes the Fracking Waste Loophole
FracTracker in the Field: Building a Live Virtual Map
Trends in Proposed State Legislation to Weaken Environmental Regulations
Industry Targets Peaceful Protest via “Critical Infrastructure” Legislation
Mapping Gathering Lines in Ohio and West Virginia
PA Grand Jury on Environmental Crimes Reveals Regulatory Failures
The North Dakota Shale Viewer Reimagined: Mapping the Water and Waste Impact
Falcon Pipeline Construction Releases over 250,000 Gallons of Drilling Fluid in Pennsylvania and Ohio
Systematic Racism in Kern County Oil and Gas Permitting Ordinance
Fracking Water Use in Pennsylvania Increases Dramatically
New Yorkers mount resistance against North Brooklyn Pipeline
California, Back in Frack
California Setback Analyses Summary
COVID-19 and the oil & gas industry
Air Pollution from Pennsylvania Shale Gas Compressor Stations – REPORT
New York State Oil & Gas Wells – 2020 Update
House Bill 1100: What you need to know
National Energy and Petrochemical Map
Governor Newsom Must Do More to Address the Cause of Oil Spill Surface Expressions
Oil & Gas Well Permits Issued By Newsom Administration Rival Those Issued Under Gov. Jerry Brown
Pipelines Continue to Catch Fire and Explode
The Hidden Inefficiencies and Environmental Costs of Fracking in Ohio
Fracking in Pennsylvania: Not Worth It
Fracking Threatens Ohio’s Captina Creek Watershed
How State Regulations Hold Us back and What Other Countries are doing about Fracking
New Method for Locating Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells is Tested in New York State
The Mountaineer State: Where Politics, a Fossil Fuel Legacy, and Fracking Converge
Abandoned Wells in Pennsylvania: We’re Not Doing Enough
The Underlying Politics and Unconventional Well Fundamentals of an Appalachian Storage Hub
Permitting New Oil and Gas Wells Under the Newsom Administration
Mapping the Petrochemical Build-Out Along the Ohio River
Impact of a 2,500′ Oil and Gas Well Setback in California
Production and Location Trends in PA: A Moving Target
The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet
The Falcon Public Monitoring Project
Release: The 2019 You Are Here map launches, showing New York’s hurdles to climate leadership
Idle Wells are a Major Risk
Literally Millions of Failing, Abandoned Wells
Wicked Witch of the Waste
The Growing Web of Oil and Gas Pipelines
Getting Rid of All of that Waste – Increasing Use of Oil and Gas Injection Wells in Pennsylvania
A Disturbing Tale of Diminishing Returns in Ohio
Pennsylvania Drilling Trends in 2018
216 Franklin St, Suite 400, Johnstown, PA 15901
Phone: +1 (717) 303-0403 | firstname.lastname@example.org
FracTracker Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit: Tax identification number: 80-0844297
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!