The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has received 40,800 public comments on a controversial natural gas pipeline and export facility proposed in Southern Oregon — with most of the comments opposing the project.
Although the comment period closed Monday, more letters could arrive that were postmarked by the due date, said DEQ spokesperson Katherine Benenati.
The vast majority of comments came in by email, although others came via traditional mail, she said.
Benenati said the volume of comments received may have set a new record for DEQ, although there isn’t enough historical data to be sure.
“It is a very large number. In the western region, we couldn’t remember receiving a larger number,” she said.
Project opponents say the volume of comments shows the public is overwhelmingly against the pipeline and export facility proposed by the Canadian-headquartered energy company Pembina.
“This project would benefit a private corporation, while the rest of us would bear the risks to our rivers, drinking water, climate and local economy,” said Hannah Sohl of Rogue Climate.
The 229-mile, 3-foot-diameter underground Pacific Connector pipeline would cut through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties on its way to an export facility on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.
Sohl called on Gov. Kate Brown and state agencies to stop the project and help Oregon transition to clean energy instead.
Opponents worried about climate change say the project increases the globe’s reliance on fossil fuels, while Pembina says natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fuel.
Pembina says the project offers short- and long-term economic benefits to Southern Oregon. About 4,000 people would be employed during the peak of construction, and the pipeline would employ 15 permanent workers, while the export facility on the coast would require 200 permanent employees, the company says.
Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties would each receive an average of $5 million in annual tax revenue from the operation, Pembina says.
Opponents have raised concerns about potential leaks, explosions and impacts to 485 waterways traversed by the pipeline. They say construction beneath the Rogue, Klamath, Umpqua, Coquille and Coos rivers poses too many risks.
Plans include drilling a pipeline route below the Rogue River bed near Shady Cove.
DEQ will be reviewing and evaluating any water quality impacts from dredging, filling and crossing construction, Benenati said.
The project needs to comply with Clean Water Act regulations in order to secure a water quality certificate from DEQ and move forward, she said.
Opponents want DEQ to deny the project on Clean Water Act grounds.
In 2011, DEQ stated in a written report the proposed Bradwood natural gas pipeline and terminal in Clatsop and Columbia counties would increase sediment and toxins, lower dissolved oxygen levels and increase temperatures in northwest Oregon water.
DEQ concluded the project didn’t meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act and state law.
Michael Hinrichs, spokesman for the Pembina pipeline and export facility project, said the company is waiting to see what the public comments are on the project and which questions and points need to be answered.
Benenati said DEQ also will be looking at the comments to see whether the state agency needs to request more information from the applicant.
In addition to DEQ, other state and federal agencies — including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — are analyzing the Southern Oregon pipeline and export facility proposal.
Hinrichs said the entire review and permitting process is designed so the public and agencies can have a say.
Agencies will enforce regulations and make sure the project is not a threat to the environment, he said.
The project has drawn the ire of many landowners who don’t want a pipeline corridor through their land. The route must be kept clear of trees and deep-rooted brush, and heavy structures such as houses and swimming pools cannot be built on top of the pipeline route.
Landowners say a Canadian company should not be able to use eminent domain to get access to land from unwilling property owners in the U.S.
Hinrichs said the company has secured voluntary easements from more than 100 landowners, which includes about 40 percent of private landowners.
“We continue to make agreements with private landowners and timberland owners," he said.