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Southern Oregon Turns Out To Weigh In On Controversial LNG Project

Alex Derr/OSCC
This is an aerial view of the North Spit, the proposed site for the Jordan Cove liquified natural gas pipeline.

A sense of deja vu permeated a hearing Wednesday in Medford, where opponents and supporters of the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project gave testimony to federal regulators. 

Many community members who showed up early had been through this before.  

A previous incarnation of the LNG project was denied under the Obama administration a couple of years back — before it was resubmitted for federal reconsideration after the more industry-friendly presidency of Donald Trump began in 2017. Jordan Cove backers should know before the year’s end whether their latest push to get the project approved will be successful.

“It’s been a long road.  We’ve been involved in this for 14 years, and 14 years is too long to put any landowner with the threat of eminent domain on our property,” Deb Evans, a landowner along the pipeline route in Klamath County, said at a rally against the project before the hearing.

The Canadian company Pembina is seeking permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a 230-mile natural gas pipeline and export terminal. The project would run across four southwest Oregon counties, with the terminal planned near the Oregon port town of Coos Bay. At the terminal, natural gas from the Rockies and Canada would be liquefied and loaded onto ships, likely bound for Japan and China.

If built, the fossil fuel project would be Oregon’s largest emitter of heat-trapping gasses, like carbon dioxide, which are causing longer wildfire seasons, drought and ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest. 

Jordan Cove has pitched the $10 billion project as “one of the largest-ever private investments in Southern Oregon.” The company estimates the project will generate about $110 million in annual tax revenues for the state and local governments. Construction of the project is expected to require an average of more than 1000 people at any given time.  

Jeff McGillivray of a plumbers and steamfitters union in Oregon says union members would be involved in pipeline construction. He said the need for skilled workers would be so high, there likely enough qualified people locally to do the work.

“So we will bring some people in,” said McGillivray, who works for the United Association Local 290. “That being said, anybody that is qualified in the state of Oregon, give me a call. We got a job for you.”

At the Medford hearing, a crowd of more than 100 lined up in the first 30 minutes to take a number. Instead of holding the hearing as a group forum, which is the format most often used by government entities, the FERC hearing was formatted as a series of one-on-one conversations between citizen and agency representative, with a court recorder present.

The subject of the hearing was the project’s draft environmental impact statement — a 1,000-plus page document released by FERC that analyzes the environmental, socio-economic and safety issues that would arise if the project is built.

The document lists 137 conditions Jordan Cove would have to meet to minimize its negative effects. 

One such condition: resolving issues involving terminal structures that would create an aviation hazard for a nearby airport according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Other conditions ranged from clarifying safety systems on the project to getting approval from the Office of Energy Projects for a plan to protect marine mammals from underwater noise.

FERC says if those conditions are resolved, the environmental impact would not be significant. 

That promise has not quelled concern of most of the people who signed up to speak early in Medford.

“My biggest fear is gonna be that if this thing goes through, it’s not going to just be my fight … generations to come are going to have to deal with this problem,” said Yurok tribal councilor Ryan Ray.  

The Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa Dee-ni’ Tribes of northern California and the Klamath Tribes and Siletz in Oregon are opposing the project.  

Other tribes along the project route have remained neutral.

Private landowners along the project’s pipeline route who don’t want the high-pressure natural gas pipeline to cross their property are also concerned about protecting their property rights. If Jordan Cove is approved, the company will be able to legally force dissenting landowners to accept the pipeline through eminent domain. The company has offered landowners a $30,000 incentive payment on top of any payment for the easement.

Jordan Cove announced this week that it had reached an agreement for 82% of the easements needed to lay the pipeline. The company has offered landowners a $30,000 incentive payment on top of any payment for the easement.    

Opponents of the project who are working with or are landowners themselves question the validity of this total, saying it doesn’t align with county filings.

At a local hotel about a block away from the hearing and protest, Jordan Cove officials hosted a hospitality suite for its supporters. There, about a dozen county and state officials from Colorado and Utah in town for the hearing spoke to the press about the importance of the project for their home communities.  

“We still believe that Jordan Cove is the best option for northwest Colorado to access all markets. Japan is our first … obviously Asia,” said Rose Pugliese, a Mesa County commissioner. 

These states are major natural gas producers and Jordan Cove would be the closest terminal available to get their product to market.

Pugliese’s fellow Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said the economy of their county goes the way the oil and gas industry goes. 

“People forget that the oil and gas industry is on wheels,” he said. “If we really get to the point where we can’t drill or we can’t get the product sold, they can load up and go… If we could have this project, it’d give our people incentive to stay there and keep doing what they do best.  And that’s produce gas.”

Based on feedback from the public and other agencies, a final environmental document is expected to be issued by FERC this fall. Then a final decision by the agency is expected after the new year.

The FERC permit, while the most broadly important, is not the only approval needed.  Several state agencies still have to sign off. 

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality denied Jordan Cove’s water quality certification in May. The company can still reapply to try to rectify the issues with the initial application. 

The Oregon Department of State Lands is also considering a permit application, for which a decision is expected in mid-September. 

Since DEQ’s denial, Jordan Cove has pulled back spending on the project. Project spokesperson Paul Vogel says the engineering and efforts to line up potential customers for the exported LNG were outpacing the permitting process. 

“We hit the pause button on those in order to let the permitting process to catch up,” he said. 

Vogel says once the permits are received, those processes will be restarted. This is expected to push out the completion date for the project beyond the initially predicted 2024.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting