Liquified Danger

by Patrick Zabrocki

An interview with WiLDCOAST's Aaron Quintanar sheds light on the threats of a natural gas facility proposed in Rosarito, Baja

Baja's raw natural beauty, high-quality surf and unique culture make it one of San Diego's most valuable surfing resources. Baja is the true surf adventure experience right at our doorstep. But this developing country is going through major changes, and the treasure of Baja as we know it is being plundered.

In an effort to evade California's voters and environmental standards, multinational corporations have proposed siting five Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) receiving terminals in northern Baja. Included in these five is the partnered Chevron-Texaco terminal to be built in Rosarito. This proposed $650 million project would be located eight miles offshore near the Coronado Islands and receive LNG shipments from tankers as long as three football fields, carrying 33 million gallons of the hazardous material.

The list of groups opposing the project is continuously growing and, for the first time, includes Mexico's two major opposing political parties, PRI and PRD. Included in the opposition is an organization that is heavily involved in protecting Baja's environment: WiLDCOAST international conservation team. Surfshot asked WiLDCOAST's Conservation Coordinator, Aaron Quintanar, some questions to fully understand what is at stake with the proposed LNG facility.

Baja must really need the energy for this industrial project to be proposed in Rosarito, a town that has established itself as a tourist destination.
Actually, no. These facilities are designed to mostly provide for California, not Baja.

With the current energy crisis and rising oil prices, wouldn't increased LNG be a good thing?
No again. Let me explain. First, LNG is not a reliable source of energy. LNG supply is expected to peak in only twenty years then steadily decline. This and the other projects will negatively impact and destroy large coastal and surfing areas, an extremely important natural and economic resource.

Second, demand for LNG in California is virtually non-existent - it is all hype. In 2003, the California Energy Commission found that, "California's overall demand for natural gas will grow approximately one percent per year between 2003 and 2013."

Third, LNG is another imported fossil fuel, much like oil. One only need look at the newspaper or go to a gas station in order to see the effects of relying on foreign sources of fuel. LNG is imported from Algeria, Trinidad, Qatar, Nigeria, Oman, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates - all of these countries are politically unstable, corrupt, or members of OPEC.

Fourth, the LNG projects in northern Baja would destroy important sectors that drive the economy - tourism, surfing, and coastal residential construction. There is no tourist in the world who would want to visit a polluted industrial and dangerous area.

What are the expected problems associated with the proposed LNG facilities?
For communities near the LNG plants the negative impacts are many, including: (1) high volume of hazardous, explosive material; (2) extreme vulnerability to terrorist threats; (3) earthquakes; (4) dredging impacts; (5) water pollution; and (6) destruction of/exclusion from coastal areas.

For surfers the negative impacts include the possible destruction and/or exclusion from surfing areas, including Baja Malibu and Salsipuedes. Conservative estimates regarding exclusion or buffer zones call for 4 miles - that is a lot of coast.

Over the years, Mexico has developed a reputation for shady politics, especially when it comes to development. From what you have seen on the front lines of activism in Mexico, describe the political complexities involved.
In some ways it is extremely simple - there are many people opposed to the projects for many different reasons - if they all work together, they create a strong political force. I am truly amazed to see conservation and community organizations, wealthy businessmen, poor landowners, surfers, day laborers, and students all working together to save northern Baja's coast. Opposition is so strong that three out of the five proposed projects have been stopped. Political support of the projects is now a liability to elected local and state officials.

However, the political situation is also extremely complex. Multinational corporate promoters of the projects have tremendous financial and political resources in Mexico. The LNG is one of Mexican President Vicente Fox's economic development strategies. The Escalera Nautica and his Plan Puebla-Panama are the other failing projects of the president.

Why should people living in the Unites States care about this LNG facility?
Because negative environmental impacts or threats will not stop at the border. The Chevron-Texaco site at the Coronado Islands is only 8 miles off the coast and approximately 11 miles from the border. Water quality in San Diego could be negatively impacted due to discharges from the gas facilities, tankers and support vessels.

Accidents and terrorist threats could cause a "Pool Fire" - when evaporating gas ignites (3,000 degrees) the resulting Pool Fire would spread as the Gas Pool expanded away from its source. A Pool Fire cannot be extinguished and according to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, " [b]ecause an LNG pool fire is so hot, its thermal radiation may injure people and damage property a considerable distance from the fire itself. Many experts agree that a large pool fire, especially on water (due to heat transfer), is the most serious LNG hazard."

A scary reason that San Diegans should take action against the LNG facility is terrorism. According to the Congressional Research Service - Report for Congress: LNG tankers and land-based facilities could be vulnerable to terrorism. Tankers might be physically attacked in a variety of ways to destroy their cargo - or commandeered for use as weapons against coastal targets. San Diego is only a few miles away; a hijacked ship would only be a short distance away.

Negative impacts in one country are felt in the other. For us as surfers it could mean the destruction or exclusion from a favorite northern Baja surfspot. For homeowners it could mean the loss of a valuable vacation or retirement home. And for locals it could be a life sentence of polluted beaches, health problems, and blighted communities. One that all of us would never wish on anyone.

How can someone from San Diego help this cause?
There are many ways that a person can make a difference - you can join, write letters in opposition, support local organizations and get informed. As in northern Baja, once the communities were informed - they acted, and they have stopped three proposed gas projects. Two more to go.


As organizations like WiLDCOAST, ProPeninsula, and Surfrider continue to inform the public, monitor legal and environmental standards, and lobby government officials, a positive difference is occurring. Although many different types of groups are opposing the Rosarito LNG facility, it is very important for all surfers to voice their concerns and be involved. The viability of surfers as an economic commodity to Baja must be recognized in order for the public and government to take considerations such as preservation of surf spots, pollution and coastal access seriously.

Two environmental and informational fairs are planned for May 1 (Imperial Beach) & 15 (Playas de Tijuana), and on July 10 (Punta Abreojos). These events are designed to highlight surfing's positive contributions to local communities and surfer's opposition to the Liquefied Natural Gas and Escalera Nautica projects. Visit for more info.

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