Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch site threatens wildlife, says Texas environmental groups | Texas

ESpaceX’s starship jumped over southern Texas last March, with tangerine flames and white smoke erupting behind it, making it look very normal. However, about 6 minutes after the test flight, the spacecraft returned to Earth.

SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has a “test, fly, fail, fix, repeat” method for its commercial space program. That approach is part of why Musk wanted to place a launch site on land near the Gulf of Mexico, near the Texas-Mexico border. “We have a lot of empty land around, so if it explodes, it’s cool,” Musk reportedly said at a 2018 press conference.

But David Newstead, director of the non-profit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, was sick of seeing a fireball exploding on the launch pad. SpaceX’s site is surrounded by land protected by state and federal governments.. The explosion scattered rocket debris in parts of the delicate ecosystems of the Bokatika region of the Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Sanctuary, including tidal flats, beaches, grasslands and coastal dunes inhabited by a variety of wildlife.

“I knew from other explosions that rockets would be scattered throughout the shelter,” Newstead said. He added that the cleanup took three months.

The private space race has already raised concerns about the potential climate impact of the fuel needed to propel rockets. But terrestrial environmentalists in southern Texas say the SpaceX test site has a more direct impact.

The remains of a SpaceX starship that exploded on land in Bocachica, Texas in May. Photo: Reginald Mathalone / NurPhoto / REX / Shutterstock

The shelter consists of plots purchased or leased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since federal agencies planned to protect as much land as possible in the Gulf Coast and the mouth of the Rio Grande in 1979. It has been. Create patchwork of possible, federally controlled shelters. As part of this, the agency has managed 1,000 acres (404 hectares) of Bocachica State Park since 2007.

Bocachica is an important part of Laguna Madre’s ultra-salt lagoon system and is home to many vulnerable species. Kemp’s turtles nest on the shores of Bokachika Beach every spring, and squirrels such as chidori peck the tidal flats for food. The shelter is also home to the endangered Ocelot, a wild cat that once roamed the southwest.

“This is one of the most unique places on the planet,” said Jim Chapman, a local environmental activist in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Many Texas officials consider the existence of SpaceX to be a state coup. They have been interested in begging musk since he first started talking about the construction of a private spaceport in 2011. The state legislature passed a bill in 2013, giving SpaceX the right to close Bokatika Beach between testing and launch. They also allowed limited road closures to Texas Highway 4, the only road to the SpaceX site, and the Bocachica section of the shelter.

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an Environmental Impact Statement, recognizing SpaceX’s proposal for the region as “not having a significant environmental impact.” It wasn’t a big deal at the time, Newstead said. For most people, anglers and beach people, managers of the US Fish and Wildlife Sanctuary that monitored sea turtles, and conservationists studying more than 200 bird species in the area can co-exist with SpaceX.

When Musk officially announced that Bocachica was chosen, most people focused on that opportunity. Josh Messiah, Executive Director of Brownsville Community Investment Corporation, said: “But SpaceX’s choice to build here gave us a lot of validation. Other companies finally saw us and began to see the possibilities.”

SpaceX’s ground activity surged when rocket testing began in 2019. The soil mound was quickly replaced by the latest rockets that glistened with fuel storage tanks, construction machinery, the sea of ​​airstream trailers, and lunchpads. SpaceX employees and contractors were constantly driving up and down Texas State Highway 4, using roadsides (technically state land managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) as parking lots.

In April, SpaceX applied to expand its current site by filling 17 acres of wetlands. This suggested that the EPA could “have a substantial and unacceptable negative impact on the country’s critical water resources.”

Birds will pass SpaceX's Starship SN8 on December 4, a few days before the test launch in Bocachica, Texas.
Birds will pass SpaceX’s Starship SN8 on December 4, a few days before the test launch in Bocachica, Texas. Photo: Gene Brevins / Reuters

Local environmentalists are worried that SpaceX controls roads and surrounding shelters and closes roads and beaches for more than 300 hours allowed. In 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote to the FAA requesting that SpaceX road closures and tests be suspended until “the non-compliance issue is resolved.” In June, the agency re-lettered the FAA about SpaceX reporting “burglary and trespassing”, according to 60 Minutes. This includes parking in shelters and installing drains.

In 2021, the Lower Rio Grande Valley claimed to the Cameron County District Attorney that SpaceX had blocked access to beaches and shelters for more than 1,000 hours. In response to a district attorney’s inquiry, SpaceX denied that the company’s road closures had exceeded 300 hours allowed, saying local environmentalists’ claims were “inaccurate.”

“It’s really shocking to see how the federal government has allowed this,” said Bryan Bird of the national environmental nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. “Elon Musk is building a space facility in one of the most environmentally diverse and inappropriate locations in the world.”

Launch site ditches on both SpaceX land and public facilities dumped runoff directly onto tidal flats, Newstead said. There he and his fieldworkers are tracking the snowy plover nesting site. list.

According to Newstead, government agencies are needed to carry out the intensive ecological monitoring and research needed to understand how the presence of SpaceX affects local wildlife. However, changes in snowy plover have already been seen.

Debris can be seen in the Bocachica National Wildlife Sanctuary after the SpaceX Starship prototype rocket failed to land safely on March 31.
Debris can be seen in the Bocachica National Wildlife Sanctuary after the SpaceX Starship prototype rocket failed to land safely on March 31. Photo: Gene Brevins / Reuters

Every spring there were about 12 nests scattered on the tidal flats on the edge of Bocachica, where shelters were adjacent to SpaceX’s property, but last year the organization found two pairs of snowy plovers nesting. He said. This year they found only one. Newstead has also reduced the annual migratory bird census and several other programs of nonprofits. Because they do not have access to shelters often enough to conduct the investigation properly.

“These are complex systems, and some of these systems are left in the world,” says Newstead. “I didn’t think SpaceX would have any effect on being here, but I thought government agencies would do more to prevent this from happening next year. I’m worried about what I’ll find when I go out looking for their nests in the spring. “

Jim Blackburn, a professor of environmental law at Rice University, said complaints about the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations were common. “Many people think that the environment is protected because we have these laws, but that’s not how it works. People who work in the field for these institutions often make sense, If there is a political will to go through a project like SpaceX, that will happen. “

Neither SpaceX nor the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded to Guardian’s request for comment. FAA informed Guardians that closures are being implemented and implemented locally.. The 2014 Environmental Impact Statement and subsequent changes remain in force, and the agency is working on an environmental assessment of the SpaceX launch test site revision plan and has no release date at this time.

SpaceX plans to launch the world’s largest rocket, the Super Heavy Booster and Starship, from Texas. SpaceX representatives say they are eager to start testing the new system. This process is believed by many environmental activists in the community that eventually more rocket shrapnel will destroy the shelter. FAA is currently conducting an environmental assessment.

Chapman said he has been working on the conservation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Sanctuary for 40 years and has never been more worried. “People love the universe and love the hype and charm of rockets around here, but there’s a price to it,” Chapman said. “There are always people here who want to develop land. I used to rely on the government to intervene, but now I’m not sure about that.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch site threatens wildlife, says Texas environmental groups | Texas

Source link Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch site threatens wildlife, says Texas environmental groups | Texas

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