A Canadian company proposing a controversial natural gas pipeline and export facility in southwest Oregon announced this week applications have been filed with an American regulatory commission in an effort to win approval for the projects.
The applications by Jordan Cove Energy Project and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline — part of Veresen Inc. — to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission launch a process for FERC to analyze the proposal and prepare a draft environmental impact statement for public review and comment.
Under the Obama administration, FERC denied the project, saying there was little evidence to support a need for the pipeline, and any public benefits were outweighed by negative impacts to hundreds of landowners along its route.
The pipeline would stretch through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties on its way to an export facility that would be built north of Coos Bay.
"The Trump administration would love to see economic development in the energy industry," said project spokesman Michael Hinrichs. "We still have to meet all the requirements. Even if it's a friendlier administration, we still have to abide by environmental regulations."
The proposed pipeline route would impact 227 landowners. Of those, 40 percent have signed voluntary easement agreements to let the pipeline cross their property, he said.
Many of the landowners who haven't signed easement agreements remain staunchly against the project.
The pipeline would pass through the property of Gail and Bob Barker near Shady Cove, then cross beneath the Rogue River.
"I think some people have done voluntary easement agreements because of financial difficulties," Gail Barker said. "We're adamantly opposed to it. We're not going to agree to it. It would be next to our home."
She is concerned about noise, dust and disruption during the construction phase, potential harm to the Rogue River and the denuding of her land.
Once the pipeline is built, a 30-foot-wide zone free of trees and deep-rooted vegetation would have to be maintained, Hinrichs said.
Houses, swimming pools and other heavy structures could not be built on top of the pipeline path, according to the project proposal.
With a change in administration, Barker said she doesn't think FERC will be objective in its decision-making about the pipeline.
"I think FERC is in the business of facilitating the pipeline. That's the impression I get," Barker said.
During a pre-filing phase of the project, FERC held public meetings in June to gather input in Coos, Klamath and Douglas counties, but not in Jackson County, where hundreds of project opponents have rallied at past public meetings.
Although Jackson County commissioners and Oregon's senators asked for a meeting in Jackson County, FERC said it had already heard from Jackson County residents and knew their concerns. The public was able to submit comments via mail or FERC's website.
The company proposing the project did hold its own open houses, including in Jackson County.
Various iterations of the project have been debated for more than a decade.
Veresen is touting the economic benefits of the project, saying engineering, procurement and construction spending would be about $10 billion. The project would generate $60 million in annual property taxes, including $20 million in the pipeline counties, the company says.
About 6,000 workers would be employed during the construction phase, with about 200 permanent jobs created. Most of the permanent jobs would be associated with the export facility, according to the company.
But a coalition of landowner, environmental and tribal groups says the project will trample landowner rights, impact tribal lands, drive up energy prices, risk polluting more than 400 Oregon waterways and create the largest source of climate pollution in the state.
Opponents said Oregon agencies will be reviewing the project and have the authority to deny permits if aspects don't meet state requirements.
"Our state should be focused on creating good-paying jobs in improving energy efficiency and the expanding clean energy industry, not on new fossil fuel projects that hurt us all," said Hannah Sohl of Rogue Climate.
Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center said forcing Oregonians to bear the risks so a Canadian company can export gas overseas represents "a terrible deal for America."
Veresen's Jordan Cove Energy Project, the export facility portion of the project, and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline are requesting that FERC issue the draft environmental impact statement in 2018, which could set the stage for a FERC decision at the end of that year. A final investment decision could be made in 2019, with the project up and running in 2024, according to the company.