science environment

Five Keys To The Pacific Northwest's Natural Gas Export Debate

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Sept. 4, 2012 6 a.m.
 \An LNG carrier in France. International investors have proposed building an LNG export terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast.

\An LNG carrier in France. International investors have proposed building an LNG export terminal in Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Rama/Wikimedia Commons

Federal energy regulators toured Southern Oregon last week, listening to comments from the public on a proposed 230-mile natural gas pipeline and a liquefaction facility and export terminal in Coos Bay, Ore.


The energy ran high Thursday at a public meeting in Medford. Union members from a plumbers and steamfitters' union, Local UA-290, showed up wearing hardhats and vests and advocating for the jobs and the other economic benefits the Jordan Cove Project and the Pacific Connector pipeline could create.

They were outnumbered by landowners and ranchers in cowboy hats who live along the proposed pipeline route. These Southern Oregon residents objected to the project, as did a smaller crowd of environmentalists.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is re-starting its environmental review for Jordan Cove, this time considering it as a potential export facility. Earlier, the agency known as FERC reviewed a different proposal, to import liquefied natural gas. The feds withdrew their authorization for the project in April, after Jordan Cove announced it intended to export natural gas to Asia, where prices are currently five to seven times higher than in the United States.

Here’s a rundown of the key issues that members of the public raised at environmental scoping meetings -- and which will likely dominate the debate over Jordan Cove.

1. The use of eminent domain… for an export pipeline


Developers want their pipeline to cross Bill Gau's ranch near Roseburg.

A half-dozen companies have submitted plans to export LNG from the U.S., but no other project involves land use and eminent domain issues as complex and potentially controversial as Jordan Cove. That's because the company needs to build 230 miles of new pipeline to tap transmission lines from Canada and Wyoming that connect in the Klamath Basin.

The proposed Pacific Connector pipeline route crosses numerous private properties in Klamath, Jackson, Douglas, and Coos counties.

To build the 36-inch pipeline, Pacific Connecter needs to obtain a right-of-way across those properties - requiring a 50-foot wide clearcut in most forested places, according to the company.

If FERC approves the pipeline, the companies acquire the right of eminent domain: the ability to take property from unwilling landowners with court-determined compensation. Eminent domain is in theory reserved for projects in that serve the public interest.

Landowners like Bill Gau, who owns a cattle ranch east of Roseburg, see the pipeline as an invasion of privacy. Gau fears it could impact his water quality, land value, and ability to manage livestock.

Gau and others are furious that the power of eminent domain could be granted to a private company, for an export pipeline, which could increase prices for natural gas customers in the northwest.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has said he opposes the Jordan Cove project due to its impact on landowners, and introduced a bill last session to deny the right of eminent domain to LNG export projects.

2. The big quake

Many public comments addressed the Cascadia subduction zone and the high likelihood –- 40 percent in the next 50 years -- of a mega subduction quake in the Coos Bay region.

coos bay

Coos Bay is at high risk for an earthquake and tsunami

David Lohman, a member of the Governor's Transportation Commission, asked FERC to commission an independent expert analysis of the risk of a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami to the pipeline and LNG terminal. Lohman and others are concerned an earthquake could wipe out most coastal roads and infrastructure, complicating emergency response in the event that the pipeline or LNG terminal was damaged and leaking.

3. Job Creation

Unions have mostly turned out in favor of Jordan Cove and the Pacific Connector pipeline because of the prospect of thousands of union construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs associated with the LNG terminal.

Richard Two Bears, a member of the plumbers and steamfitters union, supports the project.


Richard Two Bears

“I see environmental impact being what affects us here in our towns and states. To me, it's my brothers losing their homes because we don’t have jobs,” he says, “Having to leave the area we live in, move out of state somewhere because we don’t have work."

Union members say the projects could bring $6.5 billion in payroll to the Northwest, primarily in four of the most economically depressed counties in Oregon.

4. Water quality and wild rivers

The pipeline will cross over 350 water bodies, according to the conservation group Rogue Riverkeeper.

The Rogue Fly Fishers has asked for more information on what impact the pipeline might have on salmon spawning gravels in the Rogue River, not far from the site where the Pacific Connector is supposed to pass underneath the river.

Citizens also expressed concerns that slope cutting and vegetation removal for the pipeline could increase erosion and instability, creating drinking water problems.

5. Endangered species and federal forests

The pipeline would cross a laundry list of lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Southern Oregon, including the Rogue River and Umpqua national forests.

The BLM and Forest Service have agreed to cooperate with the FERC on its environmental review of Pacific Connector and Jordan Cove. The agencies are working on a right of way grant that would allow the pipeline to cross about 80 miles of federal land.

Holly Orr, the BLM project lead, says that the agencies are considering a number of one-time exemptions to their land use policies to facilitate the pipeline.

The pipeline clearcut would affect three known nesting sites for threatened spotted owls and a swath of coastal habitat used by endangered marbled murrelets. The BLM has proposed mitigating this damage through a complicated set of land-swaps, which would add several small parcels of land to the pool of federal land currently set aside as old-growth habitat.

However, The National Marine Fisheries Service appears less willing to follow FERC’s lead on the Jordan Cove project. The fishery agency challenged FERC’s decision to permit Jordan Cove as an import facility, and has announced it’s not cooperating with the effort to draft a new environmental impact statement. NMFS has stated that the LNG project could harm coastal coho, green sturgeon, and a potentially endangered smelt population.


Proposed LNG export terminals. Credit: FERC