Gulf Coast Growth Ventures is a joint corporation between ExxonMobil and SABIC (Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation) that is looking to build the largest Ethane Steam Cracker in the world in San Patricio County.
With the promise of 6,000 job opportunities during construction, 600 or more permanent jobs post construction, and an average salary of $90,000, many citizens and city officials are excited about the opportunity for growth in the area. However, some community members feel that this economic growth is not worth it and that this plant is an environmental disaster in the making.
In July of 2016, ExxonMobil and SABIC first began to look for a place to build their site. Nine months later in April of 2017, they announced they were selecting a site in San Patricio County.
City of Portland Mayor Cathy Skurow supports the project, while vowing to keep the best interests of Portland citizens a priority.
“This project is obviously a huge economic boom for our area,” Mayor Skurow said. “Not only for the City of Portland but all of San Patricio county. So, when you bring in this kind of economic development, there is always big wins and there’s always challenges that go with that. So overall the city’s thought is we are excited about those opportunities, we want to maximize those opportunities for our citizens, and do what we can to minimize the impact this project would have on our area.”
Gulf Coast Growth Ventures (GCGV) is currently in the permitting process. They have applied for water and air permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). They have been granted their water permit but are still waiting for their air permit.
Skurkow says the City of Portland was involved in this process to make sure they were proactive in their promise to minimize the impact of this facility. They hired experts to assist in the evaluation of both permits that GCGV has applied for and only mentioned some changes to the water permit. All of the other details they trust are well regulated in the permitting process.
“There is a very, very detailed process … and it gives people the opportunity — a broad brush of opportunity — to weigh in on this topic. So that being said, the City of Portland went through that process. We wanted to be a party just like some individuals in this area. Most cities do not get involved in this process. However, we thought it was prudent to represent the best interest of our citizens. I think it is important to mention that this facility is not in the jurisdiction of the City of Portland … so we have no political jurisdiction over this, but the one thing that we did have was the ability to review their permit applications.”
One group that has also been heavily involved in the permitting process is Portland Citizens United (PCU). PCU is a community group that wants to keep their city clean and has high concerns about the petrochemical complex’s close proximity to Portland as well as Gregory.
“We can’t afford Exxon to come in and do this to our environment and to what we regard as the reason we’re here and the reason we live here,” said Errol Summerlin, a member of the PCU. “The impact is going to be incredible. … We’ve got to stop it. We’ve got to stop it. Otherwise, it’s an environmental disaster in the making, is what it is. And everything that we love about the bays, and the waters, and the recreational angling, and the oysters, and the shrimp that come off the boats — all of that — the whooping cranes, … the skimmers, the roseate spoonbills. They’re all going to be impacted by this, and we individually will be (too).”
However, GCGV professes its intent is not to have a negative effect on the area, and after approximately 150 meetings, the Good Neighbor Program was initiated. This program focuses on four key areas: Health & Safety, Education & Workforce, Quality of Life and Environmental Stewardship. A big part of this initiative is hiring local. “People are excited to stay here and work,” said Jared Young, GCGV’s Governmental & Public Affairs Manager.
GCGV has hired about 100 people and 80–85% of them are local citizens. These individuals will work at other facilities to learn business and safety practices (Education & Workforce) while the site is obtaining its permits and undergoing construction before coming back to commission this plant.
GCGV has also made multiple donations to organizations in and around San Patricio county. They have donated $90,000 to local environmental charities (Environmental Stewardship) such as Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries, the Texas State Aquarium, the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute.
As part of its commitment to Health & Safety, GCGV has donated $22,000 to the CHRISTUS Spohn Health System Development Foundation, Driscoll Children’s Hospital Development Foundation and HALO-Flight, Inc.
And most recently in August, they donated $100,000 to the San Patricio County Workforce Development Consortium which supports Del Mar College’s career and technical education programs in the county’s high schools, including Gregory-Portland ISD, Odem-Edroy ISD, Mathis ISD, Taft ISD, Sinton ISD, Ingleside ISD and Aransas Pass ISD.
Skurow believes that all these initiatives are proving that GCGV will be a good neighbor and wants to make sure they stay that way.
“They have been giving in the community for the betterment of the community. So, even though they’re not in our city limits, they are doing things that will benefit the entire area. … They said they we’re going to be good neighbors, so I’m going to hold them to that.”
Summerlin is less convinced that this Good Neighbor Program is truly about being a good neighbor and more about winning over the community. That when you look at all the plant is doing as a whole with water waste, air emissions and the creation of plastic pellets, no good can come from that.
“You can talk about being a good neighbor all you want,” said Summerlin, “but we (PCU) don’t consider them good neighbors at all.”
However, Young assured that GCGV was in contact with many non-governmental and governmental environment groups to work toward solving any issues that arise and also has a working relationship with Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries about what to plant in their facilities green spaces to support local wildlife.
Overall, there is excitement and there is controversy, but much of the permitting process remains to be completed before Gulf Coast Growth Ventures can deliver on its promise to be a Good Neighbor.
For more information about GCGV please visit, http://www.gulfcoastgv.com, and for more information about PCUs concerns and plan of action go to, https://portlandcitizensunited.com.