FERC approves LNG pipeline through Upper Rogue

In a 3-to-1 vote, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved building a controversial liquefied natural gas import terminal in Coos Bay and a pipeline that crosses through the upper Rogue River watershed to Malin near the California border.

The 234-mile Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline that would transport imported gas from the Jordan Cove terminal has been opposed by property owners, environmental groups and the state since it was initially proposed in 2005.

"It would have a huge impact on our property that we bought in 2004 as a retirement home," said Shady Cove resident Bob Barker, who lives on the east side of the Rogue River with his wife, Gail. The retired couple are worried about potential environmental damage as well as safety hazards from the pressurized gas in the pipeline that would cross under the river onto their property.

"You would have this major gas pipeline two or three hundred feet from the house," added the retiree from a health care firm.

"It would clear about two acres of our five-acre parcel. The question is, for what? So gas can be piped to California because Californians won't approve these types of pipelines."

Estimated to cost between $700 million and $850 million, the 3-foot-diameter buried pipeline project is being spearheaded by Williams Northwest Pipeline of Salt Lake City. Company representatives have repeatedly stressed the project is safe and not a threat to the environment or landowners. Project partners include PG&E and Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP.

The Portland-based Energy Action Northwest, a business and labor coalition promoting energy development, applauded FERC's decision.

"This approval means that another Oregon-based energy infrastructure project has crossed an important regulatory threshold," said Executive Director Tom Ivancie in a prepared statement. "It is a significant affirmation of the soundness of the Jordan Cove project and a major step forward in the critical process of bringing much-needed, affordable energy, and additional jobs, to our region.

"We hope that these important objectives will not be blocked by the continued antics of the radical fringe."

But opponents adamantly disagree the project is beneficial and that they are part of a radical fringe.

"We believe that FERC has failed to demonstrate a need for the project, which unnecessarily places rivers, salmon, public forests, communities and private properties at risk," said Lesley Adams of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

The center is joining with other conservation organizations and property owners to appeal the decision, she said.

"The FERC document was insufficient but the overarching issue is they have not demonstrated a need to import liquid natural gas," she said. "Since it was first proposed, we have made technological advancements (in energy development) and have discovered a large amount of domestic natural gas. We believe it's in our best interest to use our own natural gas."

Opponents say the project will make the West Coast energy grid too dependent on natural gas coming from politically unstable countries such as Russia and those in the Middle East. It also will allow developers to use eminent domain to seize private property for the pipeline, they added.

"This is a really dangerous decision, one that places our rural communities and our natural resources at risk," Adams said. "We feel confident we can stop this project. The decision is by no means the end of the struggle. This is not in the best interest of Oregon."

In an announcement made Thursday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General John Kroger said Oregon will request a rehearing of FERC's decision to authorize the project.

"Today's decision by FERC does not address Oregon's very real concerns about the environmental impact of the pipeline associated with the proposed LNG facility," Kulongoski said. "The information guiding this decision is woefully inadequate to license a project with such profound potential impacts on the lives of Oregonians and we will appeal to FERC to ensure the people of Oregon's concerns are fully addressed."

They are concerned about unresolved issues around the Energy Policy Act of 2005, specifically the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, he said.

The Oregon Department of Energy has questioned the need for the terminal because of alternative sources of energy. State officials expect to file a request for reconsideration with FERC by Jan. 19.

Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff was the lone dissent in the four-member vote made in Washington, D.C.

"Based on my review of the evidence, I believe that there are reasonable alternatives that would more efficiently, more reliably, and in an environmentally preferable manner meet the projected energy needs of the markets that the Jordan Cove Project is intended to serve," he wrote, adding he is concerned that the project would be less than a mile from the Coos Bay airport.

Commissioners are appointed by the president with the consent of the U.S. Senate for five-year terms. No more than three commissioners can belong to the same political party. There is no review of FERC decisions by the president or Congress.

Meanwhile, Bob Barker, who expects to be an intervener in legal action to try to block the pipeline, said the proposed project came out of the blue for the Shady Cove couple.

"We love the area and the outdoors," he said, "but this is far from the peace and quiet we were expecting."

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