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What Exporting LNG From Oregon's South Coast Could Mean For The Environment

A proposal to put the western United States’ first liquefied natural gas export facility on Oregon’s South Coast is back in the news.

Energy regulators’ first-draft assessment of the Jordan Cove Energy Project’s environmental impact is expected out this spring. That would come on the heels of the approval in March of a permit to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries like China and India.

As a final decision moves closer, here’s a primer on the Jordan Cove Energy Project, from its starting point at an existing gas pipeline in south-central Oregon to the port city of Coos Bay, where ships would load up with LNG bound for Asian markets.

The Pacific Connector Pipeline

What’s Proposed: A 232-mile pipeline running from the south-central Oregon town of Malin to Coos Bay.

At Issue: Salmon Habitat

Can a pipeline like this safely make 379 river and stream crossings without threatening water quality, warming stream temperatures, or putting salmon survival at risk?

What Opponents Say: The clearing of streamside forests to accommodate pipeline construction will add sediment to streams and raise water temperatures, harming salmon health.

What Supporters Say: State-of-the-art technology will guarantee that no harm falls to salmon or water quality, according to Jordan Cove officials.

Analysis: The pipeline would run through a checkerboard of rural public and private lands, making it especially difficult to track its precise impacts.

At Issue: Pipeline Ruptures and ‘Frackouts’

Pipeline photo
The installation of a pipeline project similar to the one

proposed in Southern Oregon to carry natural gas.

Credit: Williams Partners LP

Will the pipeline rupture or cause damage to waterways, such as the Rogue River?

What Supporters Say: Pipeline technology has been significantly updated and will meet industry and governmental standards, leading to a safe pipeline that residents would rarely consider, similar to power lines and drinking water pipes.

What Opponents Say: Groups including Rogue Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club point to previous pipeline explosions in California and Canada and possible “frackouts” that could occur when the company drills beneath the Rogue River.

Analysis: First, a definition is in order: When opponents use the term “frackout,” they are talking about the drilling process damaging bedrock and causing mud and fluids to enter the river.

Recent explosions at other gas pipelines — including in San Jose, Calif. and Canada — give merit to conservationists who raise concerns about pipeline safety, and call for it to be addressed in the environmental impact statement. Company representatives are rightly taking these claims seriously by emphasizing the technology and inspections they hope to use to ensure a safe pipeline.

At Issue: Private Property Rights

Could the Pacific Connector Pipeline cause environmental damage to private property?

What Opponents Say: The pipeline will cross rugged terrain and could leak or explode on private property. An organization of affected Southern Oregon landowners opposes the pipeline.

Clarence Adams
Landowner Clarence Adams points out

where the Pacific Connector Pipeline

would cross his property.

Credit: Devan Schwarz/Earthfix

What Supporters Say: The pipeline will be installed safely and inspected in person and aerially to ensure the least possible impacts and the highest levels of safety to property and the environment. They point to the fact that landowners would be able to do many activities, including grazing, directly above the buried pipeline.

Analysis: It’s useful to compare the proposed pipeline to existing public utilities such as water and power lines, which safely cross private property. But a pipeline used to export natural gas to foreign countries understandably strikes private property owners as lacking the same public benefit. Landowners also raise concerns about constraints on how they can use their own land, since there are easements that come with a pipeline, along with payments. Landowners cannot, for example, grow trees or drill wells on certain parts of their own property.

The Liquefaction Plant and Power Plant

What’s Proposed: Around 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas would travel each day to a liquefaction plant near Coos Bay.

The process of cooling the natural gas into liquid requires the construction and operation of the South Dunes Power Plant, a 420-megawatt thermal combustion gas plant.

The liquefied natural gas would be placed in tanks, sent to a shipping terminal, and exported across the Pacific Ocean to foreign countries likely to include India, Japan and Indonesia.

At issue: Building on a Sand Spit

Should a power plant and liquefaction plant be installed on a sand spit?

What Supporters Say: Port of Coos Bay officials say the site is safe and wouldn’t be especially vulnerable to either earthquakes or tsunamis, according to seismic studies and the miles of water between the export terminal and where Coos Bay meets the Pacific Ocean.

What Opponents Say: Conservation groups such as the Oregon Coast Alliance say the coast is a dynamic and vulnerable place that should not be the site for liquefied natural gas exports near some of the largest communities on Oregon’s coast.

Analysis: Addressing possible natural disasters is a difficult task in any environmental scoping process and one that the federal government will need to address in their environmental impact statement.

Artists rendering of Jordan Cove
An artist’s rendering of the Jordan Cove facility on Coos Bay. Credit: Jordan Cove Energy Project.

Natural Gas Exports

What’s Proposed: An export terminal would load an estimated 75 to 90 ships per year with liquefied natural gas tanks. There are signs that the company seeks to further grow its exports.

At issue: Dredging

What environmental impacts would be caused by deeper and wider dredging of Coos Bay that may coincide with LNG exports? (The company says more dredging isn’t necessarily required, though the Port of Coos Bay is exploring further dredging through the Army Corps of Engineers that more shipping could qualify the area for — and conservation groups say the two projects are linked.)

What Opponents Say: The cleanup of the decommissioned Charleston Boatyard was taken over by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in the 1990s in lieu of being listed as a federal Superfund site. Conservation groups say there hasn’t been an adequate cleanup of the facility, nor adequate monitoring. Without a proper baseline to understand the level of contamination in Coos Bay, conservationists say it’s hard to gauge the impacts of deeper and wider dredging.

What Supporters Say: Port of Coos Bay officials say environmental testing has demonstrated there are no toxic pollutants in the sediments that would be stirred up by dredging. They say none of the environmental concerns should prevent further dredging from taking place.

Analysis: Although the company says further dredging is not required for the LNG exports, it’s likely that dredging will remain tied to the project. Its impacts should be examined by federal and state regulators responsible for responding to public comments and determining whether or not the project is approved.

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