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SpaceX Brownsville Space Port Opposed By Texas Environmentalists 409

MarkWhittington writes "The proposed SpaceX space port in Brownsville, Texas, has run into opposition from an environmental group. Environment Texas is conducting a petition drive to stop the project. According to a news release by the group, the proposed space port, which would include a launch pad and control and spacecraft processing facilities, would be 'almost surrounded' by a park and wildlife refuge. Environment Texas claims the launching of rockets would 'scare the heck' out of every creature in the area and would 'spray noxious chemicals all over the place.' The petition will demand SpaceX build the space port elsewhere." I suspect a lot of people in Brownsville are instead looking forward to the jobs, tourists and excitement that a spaceport would bring.
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SpaceX Brownsville Space Port Opposed By Texas Environmentalists

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  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @04:53PM (#40195977)

    'scare the heck' out of every creature in the area and would 'spray noxious chemicals all over the place.'

    Yeah, that fairly describes anywhere hosting a spring break.

    Oh, and Texas vermints and critters don't scare that easily. They won't give a hoot about no spaceman rockets.

  • The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida doesn't seem to be an issue - pretty much everything Nasa has had in its arsenal has been launched from within it at some point or another, and we haven't seen any animals with nervous breakdowns...

  • by SuperCharlie ( 1068072 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:01PM (#40196037)
    I have. For all intents and purposes, it is desert. You might scare some rattle snakes and a few cactus. It really is one of the few places I would say sure, dump the nuclear waste here.
  • by PhreakOfTime ( 588141 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:01PM (#40196039) Homepage


    The mohave is hundreds of miles further away from the equator than Brownsville. The closer to the equator, the lower amount of fuel you need to reach certain orbits. The rotation of the earth adds to your relative speed, and this amount of speed provided increases the closer to the equator you get.

    Why is it better to launch a spaceship from near the equator? []

  • Re:Mojave? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jpapon ( 1877296 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:08PM (#40196079) Journal

    Now, Kennedy is also in the middle of a wildlife preserve, as is the Stennis Space Center where they do engine testing. Animals don't have the heck scared out of them at either location. Nor are their noxious chemicals spread all over.

    Actually, they do spread noxious chemicals all over. Such as those caused by the shuttle. [] I'm not saying it is something that can't be controlled with a little regulation, and besides, Brownsville is kind of a shit hole anyways. Nevertheless, launching rockets into space DOES spew large amounts of toxic chemicals all over the place.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:12PM (#40196099)

    Just because you care about the environment, it doesn't mean that you are a Luddite. Conversely, carefully and responsibly handling the use of technology to ensure it doesn't cause unintended harm raises the trust people have in technology as well as science, and thus making it easier to develop and implement technology. Instead of being careful, you seem to quickly and categorically denounce people who protest a technology project, not considering that sometimes, people who care about the environment actually have a point. And if you take a look at the map linked to in TFA, you can see the space port would basically be surrounded on all sides by the park. Of all the potential locations that could affect the environment, that one seems like one of the worst.

    Besides, they don't exactly sound like Luddites to me:

    "“I love the space program as much, if not more, than anyone,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger."

    The thing I don't understand is why they absolutely want this location despite the risk to the environment it would have. Isn't there plenty of suitable locations in the USA that aren't literally surrounded by a state park? I have a lot of trouble believing that the only alternative is China.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:13PM (#40196105)

    My understanding is that they want to be able to land the first stage for reuse, and if they launch from eastern Texas, then Florida is just about the right distance to provide a convenient landing point. If they launch from Florida, they don't have that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:21PM (#40196153)

    I have. For all intents and purposes, it is desert. You might scare some rattle snakes and a few cactus.

    ..few cacti

  • Re:Mojave? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:23PM (#40196159)

    Well SpaceX doesn't use solid rocket motors (which do produce some nasty chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, in their exhaust). Their Falcon rockets use liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene - if you burn these two together, the only stuff you get is H20 and C02.

  • Re:Mojave? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Amouth ( 879122 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:27PM (#40196189)

    if you actually read what you linked to you would realized that the main problem had nothing to do with the shuttle or even the rocket launches them selves but rather a 50's-60's-70's NASA that was operating without any environmental regulation. SpaceX uses LOX / RP-1 which has about the same by products as Jets. While yes it will put more soot into the air per flight than a jet, i have a sneaking feeling that it will be no where near the total amount over time that is put into the air of normal large airport.

    Again the cleanup you linked to was for a chemical that isn't used much any more and is a problem because they where pouring it into the ground when they where done because at the time no one knew any better.

  • by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:34PM (#40196213) Homepage

    The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is adjacent to Kennedy Space Center and in fact, part of the refuge is also controlled by KSC. They have not experienced gloom nor doom there, and in fact, quite the contrary: Brevard County is one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States.

    That's after launching 135 Space Shuttles, multiple Saturn rockets, as well as other programs that litter American history. And next to KSC is the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's launch area, a place that has seen too many rocket launches to mention.

    One has to wonder what makes the Brownsville area so much more at risk.

  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:41PM (#40196247)

    Timothy's post linked to a partisan blogger. Here are the threats, per Environment Texas:

    --- "According to a 2011 Texas A&M study, nature tourism generates about $300 million a year in the Rio Grande Valley, created 4,407 full- and part-time jobs and $2.6 million in sales taxes and $7.26 million in hotel taxes."

    --- "The Rio Grande Valley has been named the number two destination in North America for birdwatching and attracts visitors from all over the world to view almost 500 species of bird."

    The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has many objections:

    --- "noise, heat, vibration, fencing and hazardous material spills" from the project could harm endangered and threatened species and diminish the value of Boca Chica State Park (near Brownsville) and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge

    --- TPWD previously declined SpaceX's request about "leasing parkland for the project"

    --- "potential for significant contamination of very senstive resources in the event of a catastrophic event (i.e., hurricane)"

    --- the area is "extremely susceptible to wildfires" which could result from launch failures and accidental fires

    --- concern "with the loss of the function and value of all wetlands"

    --- "recreational use of the TPWD lands as currently planned would need to be revised"

    --- "the proposed project area is within the Central Flyway, a route through which over 500 species of birds migrate annually

    All from: []

  • Re:HIPPIE DIRTBAGS! (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:44PM (#40196263) Journal
    In the more specific case of this spaceport, I would be considering the fact that most rocket programs so far seem to have had trouble avoiding more or less alarming amounts of hydrazine seeping all over the place. SpaceX's use of RP-1, at least for present designs, makes that less of a concern; but rocket launching doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @05:56PM (#40196343) Homepage

    What's the condition of Merritt? Before and after NASA? Is it affected the same way as Brownsville would be?

    It is, was and will be a pestilential swamp. Mosquitoes, alligators and snakes don't much mind rocket launches. There are a bunch of birds there as well but they seem pretty happy. The launch facilities really just take up a small strip of land right on the coast. Given the requirement to have lots of space around each launcher it's easy to go off a main road and end up in the bush and think you're in the middle of nowhere.

    There was a fair amount of hazmat stuff from the 50's and 60's lying around but that's mostly been cleaned up now.

    A bigger issue would be frequency of launches. The Cape really isn't very active these days and hasn't been for a long time. If SpaceX was pushing hundreds of launches per year, that might affect wildlife. OTOH, armadillos are pretty damned stupid. Not much bothers them. Not even Texans.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:38PM (#40196583)

    Are your statements based on any 'science'? Do you know that Environment Texas' are not?

    We can observe the behavior of animals. And when we do, we see that they can ignore quite a lot. Similarly, given the chemical reaction that a Falcon 9 uses (burning liquid oxygen and RP-1), we can determine what sort of pollution it produces. Via science. That informs our judgments on this matter.

    OTOH, Environment Texas just says stuff which with minor reflection on our part can be seen to be at the least exaggerated concerns. Hence, it is not scientific.

    So you are saying that industrial and other economic activity by rich economies isn't the major source of environmental degradation?

    Absolutely. Most desertification and deforestation occurs in the poor parts of the world. Similarly, the weakest environmental regulations and the lions share of pollution (real pollution that harms people now not the nebulous harm of emission of carbon dioxide) occurs in the developing world.

  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:38PM (#40196587)

    SpaceX rockets burn Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen. The combustion products are less harmfull than your car exhaust, and are dispersed mostly at high altitudes.

  • by Loosifur ( 954968 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:43PM (#40196617)

    "Scare the heck out of wildlife?" What does that mean in real actual sciencey terms? Because in five minutes I learned that they've got a decent-sized airport in the city, and the city scored the theoretical worst score on a scale of human impact on the environment, according to some arbitrary rating system invented by treehugging luddites. After about ten more minutes, I found that the actual site is so close to Mexico you'd need a passport if you tripped over a branch, and while the area is indeed known for its birdwatching potential, the only endangered thing even nearby is the ocelot, and that's well away from the site. The word "desolate" kept coming up, and this was in Texas tourism ad copy. Not "wild, windswept shores unsullied by the hand of Man." Just "ain't shit here; good fishin' though." So there's already frequent air traffic, and the area isn't exactly pristine wilderness. It's a rocket pad, not a strip mine. How much damage could it actually do to what appears to be a mile and a half of sand?

    Meanwhile, it looks like the overwhelming majority of Brownsvillians not only want the site, but could use the revenue. Not to diminish the environmentalists' argument overly much, but from a distance this sure looks like a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing Austin treehuggers minding other people's business for them. I'll hazard a guess that Austin doesn't really need the money like Brownsville does, which makes it much easier for the Austin-based group to tell Brownsville that they ought to turn SpaceX (and any potential revenue) away.

  • Re:HIPPIE DIRTBAGS! (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Saturday June 02, 2012 @06:54PM (#40196693)

    Rocket launching is far more dangerous to humans than to wildlife.

    The wildlife at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral seems not too spooked by anything short of an actual launch, and then only briefly. []

    I specially like the shot of the Osprey nesting on the parking lot sign [].

  • by Loosifur ( 954968 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:09PM (#40196833)

    First, you keep posting a link to the group's own press release. That's not exactly an unbiased source. But let's just go ahead and use their numbers, because they're still very obviously wrong about the overall argument.

    Second, the Rio Grande Valley is much bigger than the 49 acres of land SpaceX is asking for, and the Boca Chica site is at the very farthest eastern end of the river. In fact, it's probably more accurate to think of Boca Chica as part of the Gulf Coast rather than part of the Rio Grande Valley. For reference, the Rio Grande Valley is the southern bottom of Texas, and Boca Chica is pretty much a dot on the Gulf Coast just above the Rio Grande. I don't have the exact numbers, but I'd guess that it doesn't quite make up 1% of the land area of the RGV.

    Third, Boca Chica State Park is completely undeveloped, and is only open during the day. There are no, repeat, no facilities in the park. The road doesn't even stay paved up to the beach. Your precious hotel taxes? Not from Boca Chica, because there are no hotels there. Sales taxes? Not from Boca Chica; there isn't so much as a lemonade stand. So the money that your group is mentioning does not even a little bit come from Boca Chica, unless you count any parking fees, of which there appear to be none, as there don't appear to be any parking spaces at the park. It is literally just a beach.

    So, no, it doesn't affect jobs, and I wish you'd quit tossing out the same link to the same damn article from TFA above. Here, here's a link from Texas Parks and Wildlife: []. Boca Chica is #43 on the map.

    Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry: []. You can see some pictures of the place. The only development appears to be two old wooden fenceposts which show where the road stops, and a rusted-out oil drum for trash. Unless Texas hired someone specifically to drive out, straighten the fenceposts, and empty the trash, Boca Chica does not currently offer any significant employment opportunities.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:24PM (#40196953) Journal

    Environment Texas also pointed out the risk the project poses to the south Texas economy. According to a 2011 Texas A&M study, nature tourism generates about $300 million a year in the Rio Grande Valley, created 4,407 full- and part-time jobs and $2.6 million in sales taxes and $7.26 million in hotel taxes. The Rio Grande Valley has been named the number two destination in North America for birdwatching and attracts visitors from all over the world to view almost 500 species of bird.

    It isn't apparent from this snippet, but the Rio Grande Valley isn't some tiny valley that will be entirely dominated by SpaceX moving there. The Rio Grande Valley [] is actually a gigantic area composed of 4 entire counties and over 20,000 square miles. SpaceX is interested in a plot of land on the edge of that valley that occupies much less than a square mile, and will be firing its rockets (powered by oxygen and kerosene) out over the ocean.

    Brownsville itself is super excited [] about SpaceX potentially moving there, and I suspect few if any of the people involved with this "Environment Texas" group actually live in Brownsville.

  • Re:Oh dear! (Score:5, Informative)

    by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @07:31PM (#40197029)
    Years ago they were worried that the launch facility in Florida would have a negative impact on the surrounding wildlife.
    Turns out it was one of the best things that could have happened down there.
    Besides, I've seen Texan deer, your dog is probably bigger.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday June 02, 2012 @09:25PM (#40197717) Homepage

    Merritt Island was a mosquito laden swamp before NASA got there. Cape Canaveral didn't really change the area all that much - it turned into a mosquito laden swamp dotted with a couple of roads and gantries with the occasional fragment of shredded aluminum scattered about.

    I know this because I grew up there. Actually a bit south of the Cape but close enough.

    I don't know much about SpaceX's launch frequencies. My point being that an occasional launch - every couple weeks or so - didn't seem to affect animals much, but perhaps daily explosions might be a different issue. Of course, as I mentioned, about the only thing that routinely gets the attention of a 'dillo is a car tire directly overhead.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith