Less than six months after FERC issued the project its second defeat, a Trump administration official boldly announced, “The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest.”
It’s a project that refuses to die, despite efforts to keep it from moving forward.
In 2016, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted unanimously to deny approval for the Jordan Cove Energy Project, an oversized fracked gas project proposed in a small town on the Oregon Coast. But less than six months after FERC issued the project its second defeat, a Trump administration official boldly announced, “The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest.”
The White House soon confirmed that the facility in question was one that the federal government had only just denied – the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export project. The Northwest continues to be a prized location for LNG export development. In British Columbia, for example, there are sixteen proposals to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) overseas, plans that if carried out would have devastating effects on the province’s carbon reduction goals. In the northwest United States, several proposals for LNG export terminals have been defeated or denied, but Jordan Cove – and its hazards, pollution, and imposition on landowners – has suddenly come roaring back. Oregonians are meeting it with a resistance that has been growing for over 10 years.
In this piece, we take a look at what has and has not changed about the project, as well as concerns about the executive branch’s interference in the permitting process.
The Jordan Cove Energy Project
The Jordan Cove Energy Project would be a large fracked gas shipping hub situated on the shores of Coos Bay on the southern Oregon coast. Jordan Cove would receive fracked gas by pipeline, cool it to a liquid state using a cryogenic refrigeration process, and then export it using large oceangoing vessels. (See “What Goes on at an LNG facility?”) The facility would be capable of exporting 7.8 million tons of LNG per year, a 2 million metric ton increase over the project’s previous proposal. Traditionally, LNG plants in the US produced less than 2.5 million tons per year, but advances in technology have enabled project backers to build much larger facilities in recent years. Pembina, the company backing the project, anticipates a final investment decision in 2019, with an in-service date in 2024.
Jordan Cove was originally backed by Canadian energy company Veresen, a diversified energy infrastructure company that owns and operates LNG pipelines and processing plants. The financially shaky company failed to line up sufficient buyers, which laid the foundation for FERC to deny the project, citing negative impacts on landowners along the pipeline route—namely, the taking of their land—versus little evidence that there was any demand for the fuel. It was a surprising rejection given the Commission’s history of easily approving LNG facilities.
Even if the project had been approved, Veresen was not sufficiently capitalized to construct the pipeline and terminal. The company’s CEO acknowledged that the project was “a high risk game,” and Veresen struggled to secure buyers for its LNG. In October 2017, Veresen was bought out by Calgary-based oil and gas company Pembina in a $9.4 billion deal, a move that improved the funding prospects for the Jordan Cove project. The Veresen purchase made Pembina the third largest energy infrastructure company in Canada after Enbridge and TransCanada.
The current Pembina-backed Jordan Cove project proposal would have five liquefaction trains, each capable of producing about 1.5 million tons of LNG per year, two LNG storage tanks with a total storage capacity of 320,000 cubic meters of gas, as well as marine facilities for loading ships.
There’s nothing like it in the Northwest. Although the company’s website names four LNG storage facilities in the region as “similar to Jordan Cove,” these facilities are substantially smaller and they are not designed for export. They produce and store relatively small quantities of LNG for local utility customers during peak winter demand.
The planned 36-inch diameter Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline would deliver fracked gas to the project. It would run across 229 miles of public and private land from a pipeline hub in south-central Oregon to the coastal site of the facility. The proposed pipeline route would threaten traditional tribal territories and more than 2,000 acres of forest, and would cross 485 wetlands and waterways, including some of the Northwest’s most prized streams like the Rogue, Klamath, Umpqua, Coos, and Coquille Rivers.
The Pacific Connector itself could be fed with gas delivered either by Pembina’s Ruby Pipeline, a pipeline that runs from the Rocky Mountains to Malin, Oregon, or TransCanada’s Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline, which runs from British Columbia to Malin. Both are large pipeline systems that have spare capacity, so either would be able to deliver all of the gas needed for Jordan Cove.
Community and environmental impacts
Jordan Cove and the pipeline to feed it face opposition from landowners and indigenous communities along the pipeline route, including the Klamath, Yurok, and Karuk Tribes. The pipeline would disturb sacred sites, burial grounds, and cultural resources, and it could harm critical runs of salmon and steelhead. Over 500 landowners along the pipeline route would be impacted, many by eminent domain proceedings in which the government would seize a portion of their land for the private use of Pembina’s pipeline. In fact, more than 400 landowners, organizations, tribal members, and concerned citizens have filed motions with FERC to intervene. This would allow them to be included in the agency’s decision-making process on the grounds that they will be substantially affected by the agency’s determinations.
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The project would have an astounding carbon footprint. A 2018 analysis by Oil Change International found that Jordan Cove would produce 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually, including emissions from the terminal, compressor stations, and leakage along the pipeline route in-state. That’s 16 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions goals for 2050 and 3.5 percent of the state’s 2015 emission total.
Factoring in emissions produced by out-of-state elements of the project such as fracking, pipeline transmission, and tanker transport brings the project’s annual emissions to 36.8 million metric tons. That is equivalent to the annual emissions from 7.9 million vehicles, and is more than 15 times the annual carbon emissions produced by Oregon’s only remaining coal plant, which is set to close in 2020 due to pollution concerns. Methane leaks are one of the main downsides of natural gas usage, and can undercut the emissions reductions of a gas operation to such an extent that it may break even with coal or diesel fuel from a climate perspective.
Permitting process, and a bipartisan fight?
Pembina applied for FERC approval in September 2017. In April 2018, the company filed a request with the US Department of Energy to increase the amount of gas it can export from 6 million tons per year to 7.8 million tons per year. FERC has issued notice of intent to draft an environmental impact statement (EIS)—the document on which other project permits will be based— but has not yet announced when the new EIS will be ready for public comment. In addition to federal oversight, various state agencies would play a role in permitting the pipeline and the export facility. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers, for example, are accepting public comments on the project’s application for clean water permits. Comments are due to the Corps of engineers by July 21, while the Department of Environmental Quality will accept comments until August 20.
Already, the project’s application is showing flaws. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries submitted a letter to FERC noting that Pembina’s application materials use old data that don’t fully account for the earthquake and tsunami hazards that could disrupt the pipeline. Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals found error with the county’s land use approval and sent the issue back to the county for review.
Although Pembina has budgeted $135 million for Jordan Cove’s development costs in 2018, its CEO says the development of Jordan Cove is a “blue sky” goal for the company and the company seems worried about project development and construction costs. Pembina has deeper pockets than the project’s previous owners, but the market for LNG exports has not substantially changed, a potentially fatal flaw for the plan. In fact, the global LNG market is facing a supply glut, which makes buyers hesitant to sign the long-term financial agreements project backers need to get federal approval to build LNG export infrastructure.
Landowners filed a letter indicating that the market conditions that FERC originally used to reject the pipeline have not since changed. It is true that the market for LNG has not substantially changed since FERC rejected the project, but the rules may have. The Trump administration is throwing its weight behind the project, and has appointed several new members to FERC. Both of Oregon’s senators are sounding alarm bells that Trump’s public statements about the project are intended to influence FERC’s decision.
Tribes argue that the project would violate their treaty rights and landowners believe it would impinge on their property rights, so opposition to the project is growing on both sides of the aisle. Like his advocacy of the zombie-like coal industry, Trump wants to bring a fossil fuel fight to Oregon. But Oregon is ready to fight back.
Paelina DeStephano contributed research to this article.
So nice to have a heavy hitter like Tarika on our side.
If Trump, FERC, and the oily others buy and bully their way to that permit – it’ll be time to secede from the union. The union that’s a defacto oil company.
Sheesh! Eminent domain for corporate profit! Isn’t that the working definition of fascism?
You can be an obstructionist and keep us poor or move this forward. Natural gas is safe.. clean and we can use the jobs and tax money for Oregon. It doesn’t raise taxes and everyone wins.. next time you complain about your taxes.. think about getting this project moving. We need cheap and local sources of energy .. A tiny windmill / solar farm doesn’t create energy when the wind ain’t blowing and the sun ain’t shining. Natural gas benefits us all.
Wesley E. Stoker
To whom it may concern:
Living in Oregon since 1986 & a registered Democrat, rotor I am totally oppised to this LNG connector pipe line conman-constructed
across this beautiful ‘blue-green’ State Of Oregon!
“Eminent Domain” is simply an illegitimate discourse of arrogant intent & excuse of sabotage of both Oregonians’ Public & Private Lands’‼️
Exporting methane to replace coal consumption to heat 300 million homes in northern china makes sense.
Think globally act locally. Support Jordan Cove.
We have absolutely no control over the end use of LNG once it gets to the importing country – meaning, there is no guarantee that it will replace coal rather than supplementing coal use on an expanding energy grid, or have other end uses besides electricity production, where the environmental benefits of using LNG drop off dramatically. In fact, while LNG consumption in China has increased quite a bit over the last decade, the use of coal has also been on the rise again recently. Replacing coal use in China is an optimistic goal, but it is absolutely not something that Jordan Cove or any other LNG project can guarantee. Certainly not to the tune of 300 million homes.
Yes it would be prudent for journalists to look more broadly at conservationism and less politically. Unfortunatly they are funded to do the opposite. We all suffer from China and other industrialized nations burning coal.
I’m not a journalist, I’m an environmental policy researcher whose work focuses on fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly natural gas. I work for a nonpartisan, nonprofit sustainability organization, and all of this information is available in the About Us section of our website. Nevertheless, we fact-check our work thoroughly—much like the journalists whom it’s in fashion to disparage in our current political climate—and provide links to all sources of information within each article.
The reason FERC initially denied the permit was because the owners of the facility did not have enough buyers already committed to the project. They have since fulfilled this requirement, hence the second attempt at receiving the permit. Fact checking is your friend.
Where did my article say anything different about why FERC denied the project? It states, “The financially shaky company failed to line up sufficient buyers, which laid the foundation for FERC to deny the project, citing negative impacts on landowners along the pipeline route—namely, the taking of their land—versus little evidence that there was any demand for the fuel.” Fact Checking is indeed a good friend of mine; I should introduce you to my buddy Reading.
Why is all of this ignored? Because the entertainment broadcaster that our administration bases all crucial decisions on say things like this:
KEEP IT OUT OF OREGON!!
Too bad you fail to mention the other side of the coin, so to speak. You say that the whole state of Oregon is opposed to the project. Fact is, Jordan Cove has done numerous studies and conducted polls that concluded the majority of citizens in all four counties affected by this project are in favor of it. Do you actually believe that any company would engage in a massive project of this size and cost – around 10 billion and counting – in a hostile and negative environment??? Also, you failed to mention that recently there was a local measure designed to prohibit the transport of fossil fuels in Coos county that was defeated by OVER a three to one majority! Check it out….like another comment stated, fact checking is your friend. By the way, not to mention, the positive aspects of this project, like providing over 106 million (with an M) dollars in tax revenues for the southwest Oregon area – especially the Bay Area that has suffered from continually dwindling tax revenues resulting from the decline of the resource-based economic downturn. And then there’s the creation of only the second LNG fire and safety training center in the U.S. (the other one is in Texas) totally at Jordan Cove’s expense, thousands of high-paying construction jobs and hundreds of jobs in the aftermath along with the modernization and expansion of the Port of Coos Bay resulting in catching the interest of large global shipping companies that eventually could serve Coos Bay. And, of course, there’s the factor of what just makes sense: The construction of an LNG terminal on the West coast would result in nine days less shipping time that is huge in terms of cost savings for shippers. Conclusion: There’s a whole lot more to it than simply looking at from a totally environmental angle.
Eric de Place
Tim, thanks for chiming in, but there’s a lot wrong with what you’ve said. First, Sightline didn’t say that “the whole state of Oregon” is opposed to the project, though it does have bipartisan opposition. Second, the industry-sponsored polls are severely limited in several ways, just one of which is that a giant fracked gas export project on the coast affects a heck of a lot more people than the counties looking at new infrastructure. Third, it’s very believable that a company would back a fossil fuel project in a hostile environment. It happens all the time, and it’s one of the reasons why companies lose so often in the Northwest. And you can color me unimpressed that Jordan Cove would build an emergency response center given that they’re bringing a potentially catastrophic emergency to town.
It’s not our aim here to rehash the company’s talking points. They have plenty of money and opportunity to blanket the airwaves with their perspective. What we’re trying to do is provide a look at the other factors—and the risks—that may not be so obvious to the public.
This article does not seem very accurate and a touch misleading. For example, the idea that the natural gas that would be transported to Jordan Cove would come from fracturing is specious. The pipeline would connect Jordan Cove to the Malin Hub. The natural gas at Malin Hub is the same natural gas (in terms of production methods) that most of the US west coast uses to heat their homes and generate their power. That is to say, some comes from conventional method, some comes from associated gas, and some comes from horizontal multi-stage fracturing. This seems like a ham-handed effort to tie to this project to an issue that is not warranted, it is akin to protesting each new affordable housing complex that is to be built because that will increase natural gas demand, which will come, in part, from horizontal multi-stage fracturing.
Your comment is confusing in that it first says calling Jordan Cove a fracked gas project is “specious,” and then goes on to acknowledge that the gas source uses fracking. Something that is true is literally the opposite of specious, so I’m not following… There is no ham-handedness in tying Jordan Cove to fracking – it’s already tied itself to fracking. I’d be interested in hearing what numbers you are relying on in terms of seeing fracking as a non-issue, given that the NW gas industry has acknowledged that the region’s gas supply consists of a minimum of 50% fracked gas. And of course, comparing a project that will consume as much fracked gas as Jordan Cove to small apartments that will use infinitely smaller quantities of gas for home cooking or heating is really no comparison at all. I invite you to calculate the vast difference in volume of gas consumed by a large-scale export project vs an apartment building. There’s no comparison.
Towards the end of his posted comments dated August 20. 2018, Tim claims the Jordan Cove LNG project would provide “over 106 million (with an M) dollars in tax revenues for the southwest Oregon area”. Really?!
I shall refer to the first paragraph of Coos County Watchdog’s April 2014 article, by Mary Geddry. Regarding Jordan Cove’s tax obligation if the project is approved:
“Since this January when the architects of the CEP (community enhancement plan) finally made public their intention to privatize taxpayer dollars we have been told the plan is necessary because of the Bay Area Enterprise Zone exemption. Jordan Cove will take advantage of a two-year CIP (construction in progress) and a three-year EZ exemption; so the taxing districts will not see any revenue from the $7 billion project for at least five years, we are told. The CEP, by giving Jordan Cove an additional fifteen year conditional abatement, would amortize the taxes normally paid during the fifteen years over twenty years in order to start payments when the project breaks ground. We are told Jordan Cove will pay the same amount in taxes but with smaller annual payments spread over a longer period of time. We are also told that instead of paying taxes, Jordan Cove will pay service fees into two private non-profit organizations.”
Quote from The World’s Oct. 21, 2015 article, Jordan Cove Requests Are Related To “Risk”:
“Jordan Cove applied for the long-term rural enterprise zone property tax exemption, which launched the creation of the Community Enhancement Plan, detailed in a proposed enterprise zone agreement between the four Bay Area Enterprise Zone sponsors (cities of Coos Bay and North Bend, Coos County, and the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay).”
Frankly, I am underwhelmed.
Alicia R. Marroquin
I live in the Burn Zone, where being burned to a crisp would happen in less than 30 seconds when the LNG or one of its ships explodes. The nation is moving to this area finding it safe, healthy and unpolluted, that is enough to keep this town going…
Jordon Cove ads are saturating the TV now. They make it sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Because of research I’ve done on the various drawbacks of this project (even including the article in the Klamath Falls Herald and News about a year ago regarding the large amount of water that tanker trucks would have to withdraw from Lake of the Woods to keep the liquefied gas safely cool), not to mention problems of the line having to cross active earthquake faults in our area, and unethical usage of “eminent domain” to take private land, I strongly oppose this move for safety, personal property rights and environmental reasons. That “sliced bread” could make our area “toast,” literally.
The Eminent domain has been in full effect for 15 years as they take over fed and private lands for the Ruby. As a wild horse herd observer I have seen how the whole basin has been planned and operated on one goal. GAS. Herd areas are being taken over by huge mega corporation leases, the landscape is already dotted for export. Export by whom? Is the money really to stay in the US, probably not. This pipeline is being brought to you by the same bringing the tarsands to ND Bakken and than onto the Chicago hub…. Nevada hear Trump say when asked about Eminent Domain, “Eminent domain .. is a good thing..” Could be why he lost that State. Coos Bay, Many family fishing stories of the 3′ salmon.