Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline and export facility rallied in Medford Thursday to urge the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to deny state permits for the project.
Canadian energy company Pembina wants to build a 229-mile, 3-foot-diameter underground pipeline that would cut through several southwest Oregon counties on its way to a proposed export facility near Coos Bay.
The Pacific Connector pipeline project and the accompanying Jordan Cove export facility are under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state agencies, including DEQ.
FERC previously denied the project, saying potential benefits didn’t outweigh potential harms. But backers refiled their application after the election of President Donald Trump, who is seen as more friendly to traditional energy companies than his predecessor, Barack Obama.
At the DEQ office in Medford, project opponents turned in boxes that symbolically represented the more than 25,000 comments already submitted to the state agency about the natural gas project. The boxes contained hundreds of additional comments for DEQ, which is accepting public input through Monday.
Maya Jarrad of the No LNG Exports Campaign said the thousands of comments already received set a new record for the number of comments received by DEQ for a project of this type. She said officials have told opponents the vast majority of comments are against the pipeline and export facility.
“It shows the massive opposition to this project,” she said.
Shady Cove area resident Bob Barker, whose property would be crossed by the pipeline, said it makes no sense for a Canadian company to be able to use eminent domain to access the property of unwilling American landowners — especially when the company wants to ship natural gas overseas.
Barker noted similar iterations of the project have been rejected by the federal government in the past.
“And we are going to defeat this thing,” he vowed.
Opponents are concerned about the potential for leaks, explosions and impacts to 485 waterways the pipeline would traverse. They said construction to cross the Rogue, Klamath, Umpqua, Coquille and Coos rivers poses too many risks.
Plans call for drilling more than 50 feet, at the deepest point, beneath the Rogue River’s bedrock near Shady Cove to create a pipeline route there.
Douglas County rancher Bill Gow said people across the political spectrum should oppose the project. He said it isn’t good for anyone except those who will benefit financially.
“This whole project doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Gow said he thinks the Canadian company proposed the project in southwest Oregon because it would encounter the least resistance here.
When it comes to his ranch, Gow said, drilling into bedrock for the pipeline route could destroy springs that provide water for his cattle and wildlife.
The pipeline route has to be kept clear of trees and deep-rooted brush, and people cannot build houses, swimming pools or other heavy structures on top of the route. The 229-mile swath would cross hundreds of properties, according to project details.
Pembina and its supporters claim the project would spur $10 billion in spending, employ 6,000 workers during construction, create 200 permanent jobs, generate $20 million in additional property taxes for the pipeline counties, and provide natural gas to Asian nations and the Pacific Northwest. Most of the permanent jobs would be for the Coos Bay area export facility.
Through a grant program, the project is already making financial contributions to Jackson County and other Southern Oregon counties. It gave $60,000 in grants this year to organizations, including Kids Unlimited and Jackson County Fire District 5. The grant program has awarded $400,000 in grants since it began, according to the company.
Opponents argue the natural gas processing and export terminal on the coast would be a major source of new pollution in Oregon — producing planet-warming gases such as carbon dioxide.
They also say expanding the use of natural gas increases global reliance on fossil fuels.
Backers counter that natural gas is relatively clean-burning and is far better than coal.
Flyfishing guide Stewart Warren said the Canadian company’s project would contribute to global warming while disrupting local waterways — a double whammy for fish that need clear, cold water to thrive. He said the project would set back the progress that’s been made on river restoration.
Patricia Bellamy spoke at the rally and provided a comment letter from the Oregon Nurses Association, which has come out against the project.
The association wrote that dredging, blasting, road construction, clearing of the pipeline route and herbicide applications would increase sedimentation and chemicals in waterways and ground water, increase waterway temperatures and contribute to toxic algae blooms.
“Even in optimal circumstances, gas pipelines can leak and cause fires affecting forests, rivers, fish, wildlife and local communities," Bellamy said.
With smoke from area wildfires thick in the air, many opponents at the rally said the project’s contribution to global warming — and resulting longer fire seasons — is unacceptable.
Taylor Tupper, a Klamath tribal member, said, “This pipeline and all that it represents is not for the people. It is not for the animals and it does not provide a healthy environment for our future generations.”