A Canadian company is proposing a project to increase the capacity of its pipeline transporting natural gas across the Northwest.
TC Energy wants to modify compressor stations along the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline in Oregon, Washington and Idaho to get about 150,000 dekatherms more gas flowing through the region per day — enough to meet the daily energy needs of close to half a million average American homes.
The company says in its application for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the project is necessary to meet the needs of Northwest energy consumers, but opponents of the expansion say it ignores the larger trend toward renewable sources of power like wind, solar and hydro.
Erin Saylor, staff attorney with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, says the region is moving away from its reliance on natural gas extracted using hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
“These pipeline projects typically have a projected lifespan of 30 years or more,” Saylor said, “meaning that this project will lock our region into continued reliance on fracked gas whether we like it or not.”
Natural gas has made up a much larger portion of Oregon’s electricity mix in recent years as the state phases out coal. Natural gas powered about a quarter of Oregon’s electricity use in 2019, compared to just 12% in 2012.
When burnt for energy, natural gas generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is part of the reason its appeal has grown. However, methane leaks associated with the production, transport and storage of natural gas can quickly erase those benefits. Methane is itself an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
Oregon and Washington have each recently passed legislation to drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions from electricity providers. Power suppliers in Oregon have until 2040 to zero out their emissions, while Washington utilities have until 2045 to become carbon-free.
“We’re expecting demand for gas to drop significantly,” Saylor said, “which means there isn’t going to be a need for all of this gas that they’re planning to push into our region.”
TC Energy is seeking approval from FERC to upgrade compressor stations in Sherman County, Oregon; across the Columbia River in Walla Walla County, Washington; and farther north in Kootenai County, Idaho. TC Energy is the parent company of Gas Transmission Northwest LLC, or GTN, which owns the pipeline of the same name.
“Natural gas is, and will continue to be, a critical component of any strategy to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions in North America and the world,” the company said in an emailed statement.
In its application to FERC, the company said the project will provide gas to meet “increased market demand driven by residential, commercial, and industrial customers in the Pacific Northwest.” The project will not modify the pipeline itself, but will consist of software upgrades at the three compressor stations and new equipment at two of them.
“The benefits of GTN’s proposed Project far outweigh its potential adverse impacts,” the application said.
TC Energy has urged FERC to approve the project by Oct. 14.
The agency must determine whether the pipeline expansion is in the public interest in order to approve the project. This week, FERC updated the policies guiding those decisions on natural gas projects.
The changes allow the agency to more thoroughly consider a project’s contributions to climate change as well as its potential impact on landowners and environmental justice.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from TC Energy.