Backers and opponents of a natural gas pipeline and export facility in Southern Oregon have found rare common ground after a hotel in Medford cancelled their reservations for dueling open houses planned on the same evening.
Jordan Cove LNG, which is proposing the 232-mile-long pipeline, planned to get information out to the public, take comments and answer questions during an open house March 23 at the Ramada Medford Hotel and Conference Center.
Opponents of the project booked an adjacent room for an alternative open house to warn about what they see as the negative impacts of the project.
Late this week, both sides said, Ramada cancelled their reservations. They are looking for a new venue for the meetings.
Jordan Cove spokesman Michael Hinrichs said he was disappointed by the hotel's decision to cancel both open houses. He said there has never been a negative incident between supporters and opponents during 13 years of public meetings over the proposal, which has gone through three iterations.
"Any protests against Jordan Cove have been respectful, peaceful and driven by a sense of public participation," Hinrichs said in a Friday email to the hotel that he provided to the Mail Tribune and project opponents. "I am more than happy to provide contacts at venues we've used in the past so they can testify to these facts."
Past meetings have attracted crowds that numbered in the hundreds, with most in attendance against the project that would affect hundreds of landowners and cross 400 bodies of water, including the Rogue River. Opponents have waved signs and many sported hats and T-shirts expressing their opposition.
Hinrichs said in the email that he and Hannah Sohl, a Rogue Climate representative and member of the opposition coalition, were owed an explanation for Ramada's decision to cancel the open houses.
"While Hannah and I may want different futures for Jordan Cove, we have always treated each other with respect and even worked together to make sure the public is aware of project meetings," Hinrichs said. "Just yesterday, Hannah and I were on the same page that we both want the meetings to occur as planned and as our contracts were agreed upon."
Sohl learned Thursday that her group's reservation had been canceled and initially thought Jordan Cove had complained about the protesters booking a meeting room at the hotel. Hinrichs assured her he had not complained and had found out Jordan Cove's meeting was also canceled.
Sohl said she is hopeful Jordan Cove and the opponents can work together to find a new space to both host gatherings. When the two sides still had meeting space at the Ramada, she had urged the public, including opponents, to attend both open houses, not just the opposition meeting.
The Ramada hotel did not immediately return a phone call from the Mail Tribune seeking comment.
Jordan Cove is required to hold public meetings as part of its new efforts to win approval for the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
On the merits of the project, Hinrichs and Sohl continue to disagree.
The 3-foot diameter natural gas pipeline would cross Southern Oregon to an export terminal Jordan Cove would build north of Coos Bay. The new pipeline would connect near California to a vast network of pipelines in the western United States and Canada. North American natural gas would be shipped to Asian markets.
FERC denied the project in March 2016, then reaffirmed the denial in December 2016, saying benefits were outweighed by negative impacts to landowners along the pipeline route.
Jordan Cove is trying again, and is submitting information to FERC as part of a pre-filing stage of the process, Hinrichs said.
When the project was denied in March 2016, Jordan Cove had voluntary agreements with 54 landowners for the underground pipeline to cross their property. It now has voluntary agreements with nearly 100 landowners — or roughly 35 percent of property owners, Hinrichs said.
"We're now twice as well positioned," he said.
Landowners fighting the pipeline fear they will be forced to allow use of their property through eminent domain. They say a Canadian company would benefit, while Americans would bear the risks.
"Veresen, a Canadian company, is threatening hundreds of landowners with eminent domain," Sohl said. "Many landowners will not sign over their property."
An energy infrastructure company headquartered in Calgary, Canada, Veresen is the parent company behind the proposal.
Jordan Cove is an American subsidiary, Hinrichs said.
Hinrichs said Jordan Cove has made about 50 minor changes to the route to accommodate landowners and for geologic reasons. Those changes include rerouting to avoid impacts to irrigation district equipment in Klamath County and underground drilling to avoid oyster-growing areas in Coos County.
The company still plans to drill deep beneath the Rogue River near Shady Cove to create a pipeline crossing, he said.
"That's the most environmentally sensitive method," Hinrichs said.
If the pipeline is built, the company would monitor for gas leaks, including from the air. Browned vegetation is a telltale sign of a leak, he said.
"We'll have our own teams on the ground to respond as quickly as possible," he said. "The safety aspect of this is number one. That will never change. That will always be a priority."
Along the pipeline route, trees would have to be kept back 15 feet from the underground pipe. Grass and bushes could grow there, as long as the bushes didn't have invasive roots. Large permanent structures, including houses and swimming pools, could not be built on top of the pipeline, Hinrichs said.
Payments to landowners for use of their land would vary widely based on conditions, he said.
Hinrichs said the project would generate tax revenue for local governments.
The export facility would provide some permanent jobs, while the pipeline would not generate many long-term jobs, he said.
"There aren't many long-term jobs with the pipeline compared to the export facility," he said. "But the construction of the pipeline will last four years. Four years worth of work is pretty considerable."
Opponents say the project would contribute to climate change — both from the extraction of fossil fuels and from the pollution it would generate on the Oregon Coast.
Jordan Cove plans to burn natural gas to power the conversion of gaseous natural gas from the pipeline into a liquefied form. Liquefying the natural gas would significantly reduce its volume for shipping to Asia, where it would be turned back into gas.
Carbon dioxide would have to be removed from the natural gas before it could be liquefied, and that carbon dioxide would be vented into the air. Both the processing of the gas and the powering of turbines for electricity would cause carbon dioxide emissions, according to Jordan Cove.
"It will be one of the largest sources of climate change-causing pollution in the state," Sohl said.
Hinrichs said the export of natural gas to Asia will actually help in the fight against climate change. Countries such as Japan, India, Indonesia and South Korea will be able to use natural gas instead of dirtier fuels such as coal and oil.
"They could use cleaner-burning fuel," he said. "It's a net benefit when you think in terms of global climate."
Hinrichs said Southern Oregon users may also be able to use natural gas from the pipeline, which would allow them to reduce their use of woodstoves and propane. The pipeline would include taps that could be accessed by Avista, which provides natural gas to the area.