Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has been a leader in calling for action on climate change.
In 2015, he introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act, which would stop new leases and end “nonproducing” leases for coal, oil and gas on federal lands. He has opposed the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and joined other senators in introducing the Clean Air Healthy Kids Act, which would block federal agencies from implementing actions outlined in President Trump’s executive order, which seeks to unravel climate change legislation. Merkley has said we should make it “an economic and moral imperative that we quickly transform our energy economy from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.”
Juxtapose these strong actions against the climate-threatening Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline project — a project Merkley supports. If built, Jordan Cove would pull 438 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year out of the ground — almost twice the amount Oregon consumed in 2015.
As a young person fighting for climate change action, and as a landowner who would be affected by the pipeline, we feel obligated to point out the blatant inconsistencies between the senator’s position on Jordan Cove and his “keep it in the ground” stance.
If approved, Veresen, the Canadian company behind the project, would construct a new pipeline through Southern Oregon to transport natural gas from mostly Canadian “fracked” wells to a liquefaction terminal in Coos Bay. The project would generate over 1,000 new frack wells over the next 20 years.
The 36-inch diameter, 235-mile pipeline would cross public and private lands, requiring 95-foot construction easements and 50-foot permanent easements. The pipeline poses a fire danger, threatens waterways, fragments habitat, devalues private property and threatens tribal territories and cultural resources. The Jordan Cove terminal would be built in a tsunami zone; in addition to affecting wetlands, it would increase tanker traffic and release 1.5 million to 2 million tons of climate pollution each year. The LNG would be exported overseas.
The LNG facility used to convert the gas to liquid before loading onto ships would require enough energy to power approximately 350,000 homes. This does not include the upstream and downstream energy required to extract, transport, ship and re-gasify the LNG.
Natural gas has been touted as a cleaner alternative to coal. But newer research is revealing the climate impacts of natural gas operations to be much greater than previously thought, in part because they release methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. One study by Harvard researchers concluded that the oil and gas industry may be emitting nearly five times the methane from the south-central U.S. than previously estimated; when the fracked gas is exported, emissions are actually worse than coal.
In a recent press release regarding Trump’s energy agenda, Merkley vowed, “I will fight the administration’s anti-environment agenda because this ill-conceived scheme will only boost special interests while endangering clean air, clean water and public health. And I will keep working to support trailblazing efforts like Oregon’s that look to the future by increasing renewable energy production and clean energy jobs.”
Jordan Cove is an “ill-conceived scheme” that directly contradicts Merkley’s “keep it in the ground” position on climate change. The project will create around 175 permanent jobs, but most of the benefit will go to Canadian and Asian energy companies and investors.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Veresen’s permit last year, concluding that the public benefit did not outweigh negative impacts to landowners and communities. Veresen has since filed a new application for a third attempt. Meanwhile, the citizens of Coos County will vote on a local sustainability initiative in May. It’s telling that the company has singlehandedly funded the opposition of this initiative to the tune of $243,000 — making this the most expensive local campaign in Coos County history by a factor of six.
According to The Climate Trust, taking no action on climate change threatens Oregon’s key industries, including agriculture, forestry and tourism, which generate an estimated $47 billion in revenues per year. Young people and rural communities will bear the brunt of these impacts. Supporting Jordan Cove does not “keep it in the ground;” to the contrary, it will lock us into fossil fuel production for decades and flies directly in the face of Merkley’s public statement that we must transition to 100 percent renewables by 2050.
Senator Merkley, you can’t have it both ways. On behalf of all current and future Oregonians, and our rural communities, we urge you to publicly oppose Jordan Cove. We are counting on you to walk your climate talk.
— Kayla Fennell is an Ashland High School Student and a leader of Ashland Youth Climate Action. Deb Evans is a parent and owner of property which has been held in limbo for over 10 years by two failed attempts and now round three of the proposed Pacific Connector Pipeline project.