Scenes from the South Texas LNG export fight

Take an in-depth look at Canary’s visit to the Texas Gulf Coast, where major liquefied natural gas projects are progressing — and activists are working to oppose them.

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.

This week, Canary Media reported from the frontlines of America’s ongoing battle over exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG. In South Texas, developers are seeking to build two hulking LNG export terminals and two accompanying gas pipelines near the Gulf of Mexico — along one of the last remaining stretches of Texas coastline that’s free from major oil and gas development. Construction on one of the terminals, the $18.4 billion Rio Grande LNG project, is already underway. 

While officials in Cameron County and the Port of Brownsville back the projects and their promise of economic benefits, many residents say they fear the new LNG infrastructure — and all the expected environmental impacts — will do more harm than good for the Rio Grande Valley and its local nature-based economy. Indigenous leaders, environmental groups and community members are fighting on multiple fronts to try to stop the fossil-fuel projects from happening or prevent construction from advancing any further.

Canary Media’s Maria Gallucci and freelance photojournalist Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas recently visited the South Texas coast to report the story. Here are some scenes from their trips. (Read the full feature story here.)

A cactus sits alone in the middle of a vast field under a cloudy sky
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

The Carrizo/​Comecrudo Tribe of Texas’ ancestral lands span the delta region where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, the tribe has begun purchasing properties in the area to try to block the development of the proposed Rio Bravo gas pipeline. Tribal members describe their strategy as a landback,” or returning land to the stewardship of Indigenous peoples.

A woman with a light skin tone with short brown hair wearing glasses and black clothing stands next to a hedge row
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

Bekah Hinojosa is a community organizer in Brownsville who is working to stop the buildout of LNG export projects in the Rio Grande Valley — an area where the vast majority of people identify as Hispanic or Latino and which has some of the nation’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment.

In the foreground is a turquoise body of water; in the background is a long, sprawling bridge
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

A 2.4-mile-long causeway connects Port Isabel on the mainland to South Padre Island. The barrier island draws millions of visitors every year looking to observe wildlife or enjoy the beaches in the southeasternmost reach of Texas.

Five large white birds sit in vegetation near a body of water
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

White and brown birds perch among the mangroves. The Gulf Coast ecosystem in South Texas provides critical habitat for many waterfowl and migratory birds, as well as endangered species such as ocelots and green sea turtles.

In the foreground is a seabird flying over a body of water. In the background on the far shore are cranes and heavy machinery
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

Construction on the Rio Grande LNG export terminal is visible from the Brownsville Ship Channel in early February 2024. If completed as planned, the $18.4 billion project will be one of the largest of its kind in the United States.

Cranes and construction equipment are seen on the far shore of a body of water.
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

NextDecade, the project’s developer, held a groundbreaking ceremony for its Rio Grande LNG project in October 2023. Matt Schatzman, the company’s chairman and CEO, said he hoped the facility would leave a lasting legacy” on the Rio Grande Valley.

A gray dolphin can be glimpsed within a wave in a body of water
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

A bottlenose dolphin chases the waves in the Brownsville Ship Channel. Hundreds of dolphins live in the hypersaline waters surrounding the area.

Construction equipment and heavy machinery are seen on the far shore of a body of water
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

Rio Grande LNG is set to span nearly 1,000 acres along the Brownsville Ship Channel. Next door, on a 625-acre stretch of black mangrove, the developer Glenfarne Group is planning to build another export terminal, called Texas LNG.

Black cranes and construction equipment are seen on the distant shore of a body of water
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

The Rio Grande LNG terminal is expected to be a major potential source of health-harming air pollution. Together with the Texas LNG terminal and related gas pipelines, the cumulative impacts on air quality could be significant, experts say.

A woman with a light skin tone and long brown hair wearing a pink t-shirt stands next to vegetation
(Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for Canary Media)

Emma Guevara, the Sierra Club’s Brownsville organizer, has a message for fossil-fuel companies: Please don’t come into our already very marginalized community and try to play in this place.”

A white lighthouse is silhouetted by the setting sun
(Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

The historic Port Isabel Lighthouse is a popular draw for visitors to the Texas Gulf Coast. Community leaders say the natural environment, not fossil-fuel development, should remain the region’s main economic engine.