The pipeline would terminate north of Coos Bay at a proposed LNG plant at Jordan Cove. [Mail Tribune file photo]

Geologist questions pipeline analysis

Oregon's state geologist says the scientific analysis of potential earthquake and tsunami hazards for a proposed natural gas pipeline and export facility is inadequate and relies on outdated data.

The concerns about the Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove processing terminal were outlined in a letter by Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries Director and State Geologist Brad Avy.

"DOGAMI finds the information in the Resource Reports submitted by the applicant to be incomplete, has comments about possible deficiencies in the scientific and engineering analyses related to geologic hazards; and at this point is not satisfied that geologic hazards will be adequately addressed to ensure public safety," Avy wrote.

The Oregon Department of Justice submitted the letter this month to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the pipeline and export facility project.

"We're looking over the letter," said project spokesman Michael Hinrichs. "We will work with the agency to get all the information they need to feel comfortable to move forward."

The 229-mile underground pipeline would go through public and private property in Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to the proposed Jordan Cove export facility on the coast north of Coos Bay. Natural gas would be shipped to overseas markets.

The state geologist's letter faults the project analysis for stating there are no faults that could produce earthquakes, except in the Klamath Falls area. He notes the state has mapped faults in the Coos Bay area.

Avy recommends the project backers map the entire pipeline route using light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, technology.

LIDAR uses laser pulses to create precise, three-dimensional information about the Earth's surface and man-made objects, such as buildings and bridges, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

LIDAR mapping could reveal potentially hazardous faults, according to the state geologist.

Avy wrote that "many areas have not been carefully mapped by geologists and it is highly likely that many active faults have not yet been identified."

He requested more information about the pipeline's vulnerability from seismic shaking, including in mountainous areas.

Avy called some aspects of the project analysis inaccurate and misleading. For example, he wrote the applicant stated "ancient, inactive faults have no potential for rupture."

Avy wrote that the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries "finds this statement to be misleading. Weak planes or zones, such as ancient faults and bedding planes, can be displaced from earthquake shaking."

He wrote the project is located in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which is vulnerable to a magnitude 9 earthquake with long, severe shaking.

The zone stretching along the West Coast is unstable because the Earth's plates beneath the Pacific Ocean are being shoved under the North America Plate that bears land forms like the Coast Range, the Rogue Valley and the volcanoes that make up the Cascades.

The natural gas export facility near Coos Bay is within a tsunami inundation zone that could be hit by waves triggered by a Cascadia earthquake, according to Avy.

"Like communities across Southern Oregon, the state's leading earthquake scientist raises serious questions about putting a highly explosive gas liquefaction facility in the heart of the tsunami zone on the coast, where major impacts from an expected earthquake are a matter of when, not if," said project critic Hannah Sohl, director of Medford-based environmental group Rogue Climate.

Sohl said the Canadian company backing the project is showing a cavalier disregard for public safety and the public interest.

The export terminal could be hit by water and tsunami debris. Additionally, boats and ships in the bay could be transformed into ballistics, Avy warned.

He also called on the project applicant to use LIDAR to map potential landslide hazards along the pipeline route. The mapping should be done from ridge tops down to valley floors.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at

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