Tijuana: The Backyard

If the PRIista President Ernesto Zedillo was able to stop construction of the largest salt works in the world because it would permanently alter the landscape, can the PANista President Vicente Fox fail to follow suit? Or is it that the “cambio”(change) means paying no attention to the citizenry?

Since 2002, more than three thousand families living in Tijuana have united to form the Comision No to Natural Gas Plants in Playas de Tijuana to oppose the construction by Marathon Oil/Gas Natural de Baja California of a regasification complex, a marine terminal, a desalination and a water treatment plant, a thermoelectric facility; all to be no more than one and a half kilometers from a densely populated area within a zone designated by the Urban Development Plan for Central Tijuana for “low impact tourist housing”. It is clearly illegal to install industries with a high risk of explosion or pollution in the area.

The dangers that this huge project presents are multiple. Tijuana is in a seismic zone, and it is impossible to predict the consequences to pipes and tanks that would result from a large earthquake. Among possible scenarios for an accident or disaster is that of the storage tanks being punctures and generating clouds thermal steam that would travel for several kilometers. Although Marathon states in its literature that natural gas “is not flammable”, it omits to mention that although it is not flammable in its liquid form, as a gas it is indeed so. Or, when it says it “is not toxic nor explosive”, it does not admit that in closed spaces it can cause suffocation and explode.

Comision No argues, quite correctly, that “in Tijuana we have neither sufficient resources to comply effectively with the regulations, nor does the necessary infrastructure exist to deal with major accidents, nor are there alarm systems or the means to cope with explosions that exist in other countries.

Following studies and regulations in the United States for the delivery, storage and processing of liquified natural gas near population centers, Comision No considers that if there is to be a liquified natural gas plant it should be at least 5.5 kilometers away from the Playas de Tijuana community, and not the 1.5 kilometers proposed by Marathon Oil.

About 100 freighters are expected to arrive at the off-loading terminal annually, that is to say, one every three and a half days, which will discharge their waste water, with their non-native and exotic microorganisms, into Mexican waters.

As for the environment, the building of a jetty, a one kilometer long dock, and a breakwater a kilometer in length, with a 50 meter base and protruding 10 meters above the ocean surface, will destroy the coastal reefs and what little remains in the Californias of the giant seaweed forests that contain an ecosystem unique in the world. It will also have adverse effects on several kinds of flora and fauna, including the bottle-nosed dolphin, the gray whale and thousands of birds that find safe haven on the Coronado Islands.

The marine terminal and the huge 1,200 mega-watt thermoelectric plant will put 3,000 tons of pollutants into the air every year. These include sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and monoxide, nitrous oxides, ozone and PM10 particles; thereby damaging the health of children, the elderly and people already suffering from respiratory ailments. These pollutants aggravate or cause asthma, lung diseases and even cancer. The Comision No bases its assertions upon a study done in 2002 by the city of Vallejo, north of San Francisco, where a permit to establish a gas processing plant was denied. The cooling of the generators by treated water would be a serious waste for that city, well-known for its water shortage.

Marathon offers the treatment and desalinization plants as inducements so people will welcome the gas processing plant into an area that presents serious risks for the population. The water from this plant will cost double of that from the Colorado River aqueduct, which for certain, will be enlarged, and the desalinator will eject large quantities of brine into the ocean, impacting upon the marine species.

The pipelines bringing the liquid gas to the processing plant will have to pass under the scenic highway that connects Tijuana to Ensenada and Rosarito, one of the only two access roads to the city. The consequences of any accident on this highway caused by corrosion of the pipelines, leaks, or anything else could cause a serious breach in communications.

The oddest thing is that this plant will not serve the population of Tijuana, because in this city there is no infrastructure for using natural gas domestically, and to install it would take about thirty years. So, the 750 million cubic feet of gas reprocessed daily will be for export to California, or mostly to provide large amounts of electricity for that state which has recently suffered an energy crisis due to the crooked practices of several energy companies, some of whom intend to build and operate liquified natural gas plants in Mexico. Nevertheless, in order to give the impression that these operations are of equal benefit on the Mexican side of the border, and no doubt to evade responsibility in case of a catastrophe, the company has opted to call itself the Centro Regional de Energia S. de R.L. ( with limited responsibility), instead of Marathon Oil de Mexico S.A. de C.V., or something similar. And to limit their risk, the company will subcontract deliveries as well as the plant’s security. Marathon expects its company to make large profits. Comision No estimates that this business, which will only provide about 70 jobs for Tijuana, and those only of categoria Segunda (second class) may produce $500,000,000 annually for the company. Comision No says, “we know that it is not necessary to place the plant in a residential area in order to provide gas for industry in Tijuana.” Placing the project where planned flies in the face of efforts to control unbridled development in Tijuana, including the community known as Playas de Tijuana. The buildings and complicated pipe system will mean the end of the ocean landscape. If the PRIista President Ernesto Zedillo was able to put a stop to the construction of the biggest saltworks in the world on grounds that it would permanently alter the landscape, how can the PANista President Vicente Fox fail to follow suit? Or is it that the cambium (change) means paying no attention to the citizenry? The Governor of Baja California has made it known repeatedly that the site chosen by Marathon is not suitable for this type of business. And, in addition he has stated “they are not going to put it there because no-one wants to live next to those tanks.” Nevertheless, these opinions expressed in newspapers or on the radio appear to have had no impact upon the Marathon representatives. They have gone ahead with their publicity campaign and proselytizing as though nothing has happened, increasingly so after receiving a permit from the Regulatory Energy Commission. The President of the Municipality, Jesus Gonzalez Reyes, has also said that as long as he is in office no change in the use of the land will be permitted. But since the company has not even asked permission from the municipality there is nothing he can do. Besides, he has said that when he leaves office, “nothing can be guaranteed”.

Comision No states, “if permission is granted for Marathon to be placed in Playas de Tijuana, anybody involved in the granting of these permits will be held directly responsible for damages suffered by the community in case of accident or disaster, for not having taken care to provide the necessary distance”. When the ecological groups from Mexico the United States and Canada were negotiating NAFTA, they fought (unsuccessfully) for the inclusion of environmental matters in the text of the treaty, and to unify the environmental regulations of the three countries to prevent investors from taking advantage of the weaker laws and enforcement to establish industries in any of these countries. The key question in this matter is: “Why are liquifiedd natural gas plants being permitted in Mexico under conditions that would be inadmissible in the United States?” The answer is: Because the backyard of the United States begins at Tijuana.