Discover more from ESG Hound
SpaceX #19 - Don't Mess with Texas!
🚨SpaceX and the FAA are trying to rubber stamp the approval of a large oil and gas operation while skirting disclosure laws. Read more here:
One of the most fascinating things about Texas is the state’s unofficial motto:
“DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS”
When most people hear this, they roll their eyes. The phrase has come to represent a jingoistic, reactionary, stubborn and violent attitude that much of the rest of the United States now associates with the Lone Star State. And it’s damn unfortunate. “Don’t Mess With Texas” was never intended to represent gun toting paranoia and fear of others. Rather it was a call to action. A plea to the citizens of this great state to, well, stop littering.
In the 1970s, the population of Texas started really taking off. Between 1970 and 1985, nearly 6 million new citizens showed up. With the wide open country and very low relative population density, even in major cities like Houston and Dallas, Texans have always driven their cars. A lot. And with the increased traffic, the trash started piling up along the state highways, interstates and farm-to-market county roads. TxDOT’s cleanup budget would balloon with each passing year.
If nothing else, Texans take a lot of pride in their home state. So TxDOT cleverly exploited this pride and minted one of the most successful advertising campaigns in modern history.
I think about this a lot.
I moved to Texas several years back, from a white liberal enclave, to work in the petrochemical business. The massive factories and machines of industry have always fascinated me. And since “everything is Bigger in Texas,” there was more opportunity in this area than anywhere else in the world. Many of these engineering marvels of the 20th century, I think, are underappreciated by so many. What we’ve been able to do with mere hydrocarbons; bend them, break them, and reform them as we see fit, is nothing short of miraculous. But behind the technology and the shiny outputs, of course, lies disaster in waiting. Every step of the process is always one bad engineering decision, one process failure or one asleep at the wheel regulator away from disaster. Managing those disasters, or I guess I should say preventing them, is my passion.
While not a “Born and Bred” Texan, I’ve been here long enough to call myself one. After all, I know what makes a brisket worth waiting in line for. I’ve survived multiple hurricanes, historic flooding, deep freezes and a Baseball cheating scandal or two. I use “y’all” in business meetings. My youngest child was born here. I’ve picked up just a bit of that stubbornness and pride too. Being painted as a state full of paranoid lunatics ain’t fun, and it certainly isn’t fair. I like to point out that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the world, that it has the highest number of black and latino business executives in the USA, and that we had an openly Lesbian mayor 11 years ago. Likewise, Dallas and Austin are diverse hubs of technology and higher learning. Latino populations here are well integrated and it’s not uncommon to see an old white guy out in Midland speak fluent Spanish to his neighbors and colleagues without stubbornly insisting that they “learn the damn language” of this country.
Trump underperformed here in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, a sharp contrast to the relative success he had in the upper midwest. Why the current governor, Greg Abbott, seems to be spiraling into MAGA madness continues to baffle me, but I’m not him and I suspect it may backfire at some point.
“What does this have to do with SpaceX?”
I’ve noticed over the past 6 weeks, as I’ve desperately tried to get people to look at how insanely big SpaceX’s proposed plans are, that there’s a sense of inevitability to all of this. Some choice paraphrases:
Of course Elon will get his way. Why Bother?
Texas doesn’t have regulations anyways
There is already so much oil and gas production in Texas, who cares?
Texas has added abhorrent abortion and voter suppression laws now, they deserve it.
One of my favorite fishing spots is the Freeport/Surfside Jetty. When the speckled trout come in to the shipping channel to spawn, from later winter to early spring, it’s some of the best on-shore fishing I’ve ever experienced. Freeport is home to an unbelievably massive industrial complex, anchored by giants BASF and Dow Chemical. Looking out from the jetty in one direction is a small public beach on the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. The other direction: large chemical and oil tanks and process towers as far as the eye can see. A jarring reminder of the omnipresent industry that Texans have lived alongside for generations.
But here’s the thing: I can catch a fish not 500 yards from the storage and handling of toxic chemicals and not worry about it being unsafe to eat. I can kayak to and then fish off the power plant water discharge along the Houston ship channel, as the warm water attracts Reds in the coldest months of the year.
The mere idea that because Texas is a conservative state, with a high dependence on dirty industry, that nobody cares couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the fiercest conservationists I’ve met since moving down here are lifelong republicans. Many of them work in Oil and Gas. The reason we have lands to hike and hunt and fish and explore on is because we make sure that no one “messes with Texas.” Or at the very least, makes sure their messes aren’t too big.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is the state’s environmental regulator, who enforces EPA and State laws. And despite the perception otherwise, they’re actually an extremely tough and competent regulator1. Having dealt with major sources under the Clean Air Act in Texas and in Southern California (home to the notorious South Coast Air Quality Management District), I’d be much more afraid of a TCEQ inspection if my technical documentation wasn’t in tip top shape. You see, while SCAQMD goes after lots of PR based “wins,” TCEQ has been at the forefront of regulatory analysis for decades. The technical basis for nearly every single leak standard, every storage tank requirement, every refinery emission control that is now standard across the country originated with TCEQ.
If Elon Musk and SpaceX and the FAA truly thought they could just get away with doing whatever they wanted, including rubber stamp approval of a large oil and gas processing operation, why didn’t they contact the TCEQ during the initial consultation? Why were they afraid to mention a pipeline that they clearly intend to build? Why do they call a by-the-book LNG unit a rocket fuel liquefier? Why are they so cagey about discussing their plans to frack and drill? After all, it’s Texas. We love that stuff.
When Exxon or Chevron or Kinder Morgan or Cheniere or Enbridge or NRG wants to authorize a new project via a Federal agency, they put their cards down on the table. I’m not saying these actions are perfectly exhaustive or don’t have some serious issues, but it’s at least mostly out there in the public. Hundreds of pages, detailing where the inputs come from, where the outputs go, data on the nature of all the chemicals and oils and gasses they’ll be dealing with, and actual process design rates.
When Cheniere wants to put an LNG unit on federal land, they tell you it’s a damn LNG. FERC makes sure of that, as do the very foundational laws, such as NEPA (imperfect as it may be) that have helped prevent countless environmental consequences over the years.
So when SpaceX tells you they’re building a gas plant or a 250 megawatt power plant or an LNG unit and they dedicate only a couple of sentences to describing each, using greenwashed and misleading terms, they’re not even bothering with the minimum standards set by the (notoriously benevolent) fossil fuel industry.
Six weeks later, and not a single press mention of an LNG unit. Nary a mention of a 250 Megawatt power plant. In New York just yesterday, they celebrated the rejection of plans for a 436 Megawatt power plant that would replace an existing natural gas power unit.
And while New York and Texas are certainly quite different, the media coverage and public awareness around the two activities are universes apart
SpaceX wants to build a large utility power plant, and that’s on top of bigger rockets and a natural gas fractionation plant and LNG plant. In a literal wildlife refuge. Do you really think that SpaceX and FAA did this by accident? Or did they try to gaslight us into submitting to the will of the richest man in the world on his fantastical quest to set up a Colony on Mars?
Reminder: all of this is an “insignificant change” from 2014, when this bill of goods was sold to the public:
The truth will come out, it’s only a matter of time. Once the public becomes aware of this fact, we’ll see how much Elon Musk’s new home takes to being “Messed With.”
PART 1 - NEPA Primer / FAA has no business permitting oil and gas facilities
PART 2 - Elon Musk’s Natural Gas Treatment Plant
PART 3 - SpaceX is building a pipeline and doesn’t feel the need to mention it
PART 4 - SpaceX dreams of drilling for a sh*tload of oil
PART 5 - A discussion on the hugeness of the project, a parade of tankers and a reality check about the Oil and Gas biz
PART 6 - The Facility would be a Major Source of Pollution under the PSD Rules in the Clean Air Act, which by statutory definition would exclude it from fast track approval under NEPA
PART 7 - The GHG and CO2 emissions are plainly nonsense
PART 8 - ESG Hound drops the gauntlet and explains why this is a massive fraud happening in plain sight.
PART 9 - The End of NEPA as we know it
PART 10 - ELON MUSK REALITY DISTORTION FIELD
PART 11 - Pipeline Plans Confirmed!
PART 12 - It turns out drilling for oil and gas has some negative environmental impacts
PART 13 - I found the Modular Gas Plant; the clue that got me there will leave you stiff with shock
PART 14 - The wildlife toll of industry, told through my personal experiences
PART 15 - SpaceX is building an LNG, does anyone care?
PART 16 - First Principles and gas processing plants
PART 17 - Big LNG Unit is, big!
PART 18 - SpaceX’s carbon footprint nullifies 500 thousand Teslas every year.
I have serious problems with TCEQ’s handling of Exploration and Production activity since the shale boom.