One of the country’s top administrative judges on energy is in Oregon this week looking into the conduct of companies interested in importing liquefied natural gas.
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge, Bobbie McCartney is conducting an unusual investigation for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Property owners in Northwest Oregon say they’ve been intimidated and misled by Oregon LNG and Oregon Pipeline.
Rob Manning was at the first of the three meetings Tuesday and joins me now.
Beth Hyams: What are these hearings?
Rob Manning: As you said, this is an unusual proceeding – Judge McCartney even called it “unique”. The first one was Tuesday in Forest Grove. There are two more – one Wednesday in Astoria, and one Thursday in Portland.
Judge McCartney called it a “hybrid” of a town hall format and a court hearing – but it’s really much closer to a court hearing than a town hall. People who were speaking were under oath, and the testimony was made part of an official record.
The people speaking were under oath. I wasn’t able to record, and the judge gave a rebuttal opportunity to Oregon LNG.
Beth Hyams: What does the company think about it?
Rob Manning: "They’ve objected to the whole proceeding, but their CEO, Peter Hansen there. He wanted to be able to cross-examine witnesses – but the judge decided instead that she would do all the questioning. Hansen told me at a break, that it wasn’t fair.
Peter Hansen: “We have had no opportunity to prepare to rebut. We are not being allowed to cross-examine, and yet the information – quote unquote I would say - that’s being submitted by people in secrecy, goes into the record. I don’t think that is a fair process, I don’t think that’s the way the process is supposed to work.”
Hansen’s “in secrecy” comment is about written testimony that was previously submitted.
Beth Hyams: What are property owners alleging?
Rob Manning: The big issue is that property owners don’t want the pipeline affiliated with the Oregon LNG project, proposed near Warrenton, to come across their land. Oregon LNG is looking for property owners who are willing to work with them – at least for information, but also to grant possible permanent access in the form of a right-of-way.
Property owners today raised three main issues: that the company is not adequately considering their concerns about possible problems with the pipeline’s location, that the company is bullying them to get onto their land, and that it’s impossible to get helpful information.
Allen Neuringer, for instance, says that contractors with Oregon LNG spoke to him for as much as an hour a few years ago – when the project was in its infant stages, and Neuringer wasn’t a visible opponent of it. Now he is an opponent, and he says he’s struggled to get answers. For instance, he wanted to correct apparent errors on maps he was given.
Allen Neuringer: “I spent over a year trying to get information, of how I can interpret the pipeline with respect to these maps. I called CH2M Hill, and asked the question – those were the folks who created the maps, and was told they couldn’t respond to me. That higher-ups had said I couldn’t get information. That what I had to do was write to Oregon LNG to get permission to get information.”
Neuringer, and other property owners contend that Oregon LNG can settle these questions easily.
Beth Hyams: How does company respond?
Oregon LNG says they’ve done the best they could to provide information. Peter Hansen says their information is only as good as what they get from property owners, from visiting their land.
But Hansen flatly denies intimidating anyone. And in his view, the strategy of keeping surveyors out isn’t necessarily going to result in property owners avoiding the path of the pipeline.
He says if a property owner – like Allen Neuringer, for instance, doesn’t comply, but his neighbor does work with the company, that works to the advantage of the neighbor.
Peter Hansen: “For example, if the neighbors give us access, and we go on the neighbors’ property and determine there are obstacles there that make it less feasible to install the pipeline on the neighbors’ property, and yet we have no information about, for example, Mr. Neuringer’s property, for now, we have to assume that there are no obstacles to prevent the installation of a pipeline. So it actually works against landowners who don’t want to give us access.”
Beth Hyams: What’ll come of this?
Rob Manning: a. Administrative law judge says she wants to publish her report by the first of June.
b. Of course, there’s a broader debate over whether the LNG terminal and pipeline will get their necessary approvals. And that’ll last far longer into the future. It’s not clear what effect, if any, Judge McCartney’s findings will have on those decisions.
c. Oregon LNG is third such terminal proposed for the state. Bradwood Landing and Jordan Cove have both been approved for siting by FERC – but there are conditions attached, and many permits still to be secured before they’re okay to build.