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LNG Opponents Fighting On Two Fronts

Opponents of liquefied natural gas took their case to court Thursday. They also appealed to the shareholders of Northwest Natural.

There are  a handful of Oregon LNG proposals  before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has sweeping authority over such projects. But as Rob Manning reports, LNG opponents are trying  to leverage what power there is outside of D.C., to interfere with plans.

LNG opponents have two different gripes that they’re taking to two different courts, so to speak.

First, there's the the court of public opinion – particularly that part of the public with shares in Northwest Natural. Opponents say  liquefied natural gas is a bad investment.

Brent Foster, with Columbia Riverkeeper, helped organize a protest outside the Northwest Natural shareholders’ meeting.

Brent Foster: “LNG costs twice the price of domestic gas, that was confirmed by the Oregon Department of Energy in their recent report, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that two weeks ago. It’s not a good investment. We think it’s bad for the environment, but at the end of the day, we think it’s Northwest Natural’s investors who should step up and say it doesn’t make sense from a financial component.”

Northwest Natural spokesman, Steve Sechrist says that shareholders may  have somthing to say  about LNG, or pipelines. But he says some analyses of LNG have problems.

Steve Sechrist: “There was a cost estimate for LNG, for example, and assumptions for pipelines that may or may not get built. The assumptions in several cases, are that all of them would get built, and I don’t think that’s an assumption that anyone can make at this point.”

If opponents can’t gain traction working from the top, they’re also working on the ground level. You see, after LNG is imported in liquid form and turned back into gas, you need pipelines in the ground to move it. Those proposed pipelines would cross miles and miles of private land.

But before a pipeline plan can be approved,  officials need to do surveys and environmental studies on the land. And access to the land is in the hands of property owners like Phil Breazile.

He says a surveyor first visited him on his property in Gales Creek, north of Forest Grove, about a year ago.

Phil Breazile: “I said ‘I’m still kind of up in the air about what’s going on with this thing. I’m going to defer that. In fact, I heard you guys were coming, and I put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs at this point, and I would prefer that you wouldn’t come on, until you can prove to me that it’s going to be a viable source’.” 

Breazile says since then, he got fliers in the mail about the pipeline, but he never saw another surveyor. Until recently.

Phil Breazile: “You know, lately, they’ve been just coming around and going into the back, and you know, driving up the roads, which are marked ‘No Trespassing’ and getting in there, and staking and surveying, and having their way.”

Now, some of Breazile’s neighbors are suing the pipeline companies alleging the high-priced proposals are also leading to illegal trespassing. The lawsuit asks a judge to forbid the companies from using information for the required environmental studies if it was gathered while trespassing.

Steve Sechrist with Northwest Natural says it’s a longstanding policy not to trespass on private land, but he says his company is looking into the allegation.

In the end, many landowners are worried that their property might be condemned to make way for these new gas projects. But Brent Foster, with Columbia Riverkeeper, says at least on the front end, the balance of power tilts toward the landowner.

Brent Foster: “I mean, I think property owners have a huge amount of power. The reality is, it’s not easy to force yourself onto somebody’s land, if they don’t want you on it. Your alternative, trespassing, is not a legal one.” 

The LNG and pipeline debates are a long way from over. The federal process is notoriously slow, and with the level of opposition, every step of the way is likely to be dragged out even further.