Gas pipeline export talk not a surprise to LNG opponents

Opponents of a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay and connecting pipeline to Malin are saying "I told you so" following the announcement that proponents now want to export the gas.

"We've been expecting the export announcement for quite some time — imports didn't make any sense at all," said Shady Cove resident Bob Barker, whose property bordering the Rogue River would be crossed by the pipeline. "Now we have the scenario of selling the gas to the highest bidder. Since the price of U.S. gas is so much lower, exporting it will likely raise the price of domestic natural gas."

He was reacting to last week's announcement by Bob Braddock, head of the Jordan Cove terminal project, that the backers of the proposal had applied for a permit from the U.S. Department of Energy to export pressurized natural gas from the proposed terminal.

He cited changing demand and increased domestic supplies that made domestic gas cheaper than imported in recent years.

However, Braddock cautioned the import permit application to the DOE's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would not be followed through without commitments from future terminal users.

But Randy Miller, project manager for the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline that would stretch 234 miles from the proposed Jordan Cove liquified natural gas terminal near Coos Bay through Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties to Malin, said changing from import to export changes little from his perspective.

"It will mean relatively minor changes to the pipeline — the gas could go either direction," Miller said Monday afternoon from his office in Salt Lake City.

When the pipeline project was originally proposed in 2005, plans had called for importing the pressurized natural gas to a main north-south pipeline in Malin, then on to customers in California. Williams Pacific Connector Gas Operator, a Salt Lake City firm, is proposing the project along with Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. and Fort Chicago Energy Partners.

In addition to crossing a little more than 100 miles of private land, the pipeline also would go through some 30 miles of national forestland and 40 miles of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. Easements would be needed on the private parcels, although FERC has granted the pipeline builders the right of eminent domain as a last resort.

Company representatives have stressed the three-foot-diameter pipeline buried underground would be safe to both the environment and landowners. But many landowners and environmental groups disagree.

"From the perspective of a private property owner, this feels more and more like it could be the use of eminent domain for profits for a private company," said Barker, who is among other project opponents meeting today with representatives of Gov. John Kitzhaber to express their concerns about the project. Kitzhaber's predecessor, Ted Kulongoski, had opposed the project but Kitzhaber has not yet announced a stance.

"This is a fight worth fighting — the pipeline is a bad idea," Barker said, adding that the prospect of exporting the gas makes it even more untenable. "I think we have a pretty good chance of stopping this thing."

Lesley Adams, director of Rogue Riverkeepers, an affiliate of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, agreed. The environmental group is concerned about safety issues as well as the impact on the salmon fishery and water quality to the nearly 400 streams it would cross, including the upper Rogue River.

"This just adds another layer to an already problematic project," Adams said. "We are now looking at exporting natural gas to Asia, which will increase gas rates here at home."

The point, she said, is that in addition to safety and environmental concerns, opponents are also concerned about national security and energy independence.

"If we want to become energy independent, we shouldn't be exporting natural gas so companies can get richer at the expense of U.S. rate payers," she said. "I also believe they have to start all over with their permitting process. Their stated need is now totally different."

Oregon's senior U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, has expressed concern about the proposal to export the natural gas.

"I think it's premature to conclude that the United States now has so much natural gas that it can afford to export it overseas," he told The Associated Press. "I think there ought to be a time-out on approving LNG exports until there is a better understanding of how much natural gas there is, whether it can be safely extracted, and what the impact on the U.S. economy would be from LNG exports."

However, last fall, the Portland-based Energy Action Northwest, a business and labor coalition promoting energy development, came out in support of the project's preliminary approval by FERC.

In a related development, the Ruby Pipeline from Wyoming gas fields to Malin was completed, providing an additional supply of natural gas to California markets.

Pipeline project manager Miller disagrees the firms will need to go back to square one in the permit process because of the change from import to export. The pipeline project already had received a certificate from FERC to move natural gas from Coos Bay to Malin, he noted, adding the permitting process to send the gas the other way is very similar.

But he acknowledged the permit process on a local and state level is still far from being completed.

"We are still pursuing local and state permits," he said. "Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months we hope to have all those permits in hand."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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