The latest round of public hearings for a highly controversial liquefied natural gas project starts Monday in Oregon.

Backers of the Jordan Cove LNG project plan to build a 230-mile pipeline across public and private land in four southwest Oregon counties. That pipeline would transport natural gas from sources in the U.S. Rockies and Canada to a new terminal at the Port of Coos Bay. There the gas would be liquefied and loaded on ships bound for buyers in Asia.

Looking out toward the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal site near Coos Bay, Oregon. 

Looking out toward the proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal site near Coos Bay, Oregon. 

Jes Burns/OPB/EarthFix

Jordan Cove says the economic benefits of the project for local communities will be substantial — about $110 million annually in property and corporate tax revenues for the state and Coos, Jackson, Douglas and Klamath counties, where the project will be located.

“This will be a significant benefit to public services in Southern Oregon,” said Jordan Cove spokesperson Paul Vogel. “[It will be] the largest tax payer in four Oregon counties. They’re four Oregon counties that have been economically distressed and could use new tax revenue.”

Late last month Jordan Cove released an analysis estimating economic benefits for local tribes as well. Most of the expected increases would come during the five-year construction period, when an average of 1,023 people would be employed each month by the project. The ECONorthwest analysis predicts a boost of roughly $6 million to $10 million annually for the tribes in southwest Oregon through increased gambling, hotel and other hospitality service use.

But some suggest caution when considering these figures.

“We hear a lot about the economic benefit of these kinds of facilities, but we hear very little about the economic costs,” said Patricia Kullberg, a retired physician and former medical director at the Multnomah County Health Department.

Kullberg is co-author of a recent Oregon & Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility report on the potential public health impacts of natural gas projects in the Pacific Northwest.

The report cites several concerns with the Jordan Cove project, including the potential for pipeline explosions and air quality impacts. It also points to aviation concerns surrounding the proximity of tall terminal structures, including LNG storage tanks, and the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend.

Kullberg said impact of a plane into these storage tanks would likely cause an explosion, potentially putting the surrounding community in danger.

“Unlikely event, but pretty high risk,” she said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s draft environmental impact document for Jordan Cove, which is the subject of the upcoming public hearings, confirms that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a determination, called a  “Notice of Presumed Hazard,” concerning the height of terminal and shipping vessel structures. The structures, as planned, would “exceed obstruction standards and would be a presumed hazard to air navigation,” according the environmental document. Jordan Cove indicates it’s consulting with the FAA on the issue.

If built, Jordan Cove would be the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in Oregon. Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases released in the production, transport and burning of natural gas are a significant contributor to global climate change, which is causing weather extremes, longer wildfire seasons and sea level rise.

The public hearings, planned for Coos Bay, Myrtle Creek, Medford and Klamath Falls, will take place over four days, each running for seven hours.

“Recognizing significant public interest for this project and in anticipation of a large turnout, FERC staff has chosen to allot more time for the public comment sessions than is typical,” said the announcement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In addition the hearings are organized more like a trip to the DMV than the public forum format that is more commonly used. Members of the public who want to go on the record about the project’s draft environmental impact statement will take numbers. Then they will be called to individually give their three-minute public comment directly to a FERC staff member and a court reporter.