Pipeline comments extension requested

Members of Oregon's congressional delegation have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to extend by 30 days its public comment period regarding a proposed natural gas pipeline between Coos Bay and Malin near the California state line.

The FERC has set a Sept. 4 deadline for public opinion as it prepares an environmental impact statement for the pipeline, but U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., want it extended to Oct. 4, citing the increased complexity of the proposal.

Backers of the Pacific Connector Pipeline earlier this year announced they wanted to export the natural gas rather than import it as previously requested. They had earlier received FERC approval for importing the natural gas, but that authorization was withdrawn after it was announced the gas would be exported.

Vacating the authorization meant the firms had to obtain a new FERC certificate as LNG exporters before moving forward, according to a commission spokeswoman.

The roughly 230-mile pipeline would cross through northern Jackson County, including the upper Rogue River drainage.

In Coos Bay, it would be connected to a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal to be built at Jordan Cove. At the eastern end, the Pacific Connector line would be linked to the existing Ruby Pipeline and draw on natural gas coming from Wyoming.

In addition to crossing more than 100 miles of private property, as well as state and county lands, the Pacific Connector pipeline would go through some 30 miles of national forestland and 40 miles of Bureau of Land Management land.

The proposal has met with vocal opposition from private property owners whose land the pipeline would cross, as well as from environmental groups and others.

In addition to concerns about eminent domain issues, they say the project could increase the cost of domestic natural gas, threaten salmon fisheries and pose a danger to nearby residents.

Representatives of the pipeline project have insisted the 3-foot-diameter, underground pipeline would be safe for both the environment and landowners. The pipeline is being proposed by Williams Pacific Connector Gas Operator, a Salt Lake City firm, and Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.

In an Aug. 10 letter to FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff, DeFazio noted the original 30-day public scoping period was too short and that the project was more technically complicated. He also asked that FERC provide an email address to make it easier for the public to make comments.

Wyden sent a similar letter to Wellinghoff on Aug. 15.

The commission has not yet decided on the request but has scheduled a public meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, in Medford to discuss the scoping process. The session will be held in the Medford School District's Education Center Auditorium, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

Other sessions are being held Monday in Coos Bay, Tuesday in Roseburg and Wednesday in Klamath Falls.

During an interview with the Mail Tribune editorial board last week, Wyden, who noted he hasn't taken a stand on the proposed pipeline between Coos Bay and Malin, expressed concern about the impact of exporting natural gas.

"The prices in Asia are six times what our natural gas prices are," he said. "One of the things I'm concerned about is, if we decide lickity split to export this gas, Asia will get lower prices and we will get higher prices."

Meanwhile, manufacturers are now starting to come back to the United States because of affordable energy, he said.

"I'm going to do a top-to-bottom review of this whole policy of exporting energy," he said. "I'm not saying I'm for it or against it. But I think we ought to call a time out while we think this through.

"This is a strategic American asset — red, white and blue," he added.

Earlier this year, DeFazio introduced legislation aimed at protecting private property from the use of eminent domain in building a pipeline designed to export liquefied natural gas. The U.S. Constitution limits the use of eminent domain to actions necessary for "public use," he noted, adding that pipelines such as the proposed Pacific Connector line failed that test.

"The impacts of the pipeline and terminal to the economy and the environment needs to be robustly analyzed," said Lesley Adams, head of Rogue Riverkeeper, an arm of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

"Not only are we concerned about what the project would do to private property rights but also the potential for increased domestic gas rates," she added. "The path to energy independence doesn't involve exporting our country's natural gas."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story