Federal regulators hear from the public as they weigh the Jordan Cove pipeline project

As the controversial project nears a pivotal crossroads, we're taking a deep dive into what the Jordan Cove LNG pipeline is and what it entails.

Posted: Jun 24, 2019 2:16 PM
Updated: Jun 25, 2019 7:41 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — A project more than 12 years in the making nears an important decision point. Federal regulators are considering whether to give the Jordan Cove Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) pipeline project the green light — but first, those regulators will be visiting several locations in Southern Oregon for comments from the public.

With that in mind, here's a little background on the Jordan Cove LNG, what it is and why these next few weeks are so important — whether you support the project, oppose it, or have yet to make up your mind.

FERC public comment hearings on the Jordan Cove LNG pipeline

  • June 24 — Southwestern Oregon Community College, 1988 Newmark Avenue, Coos Bay; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 25 — South Umpqua High School, 501 Chadwick Lane, Myrtle Creek; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 26 — Ramada Medford Hotel and Conference Center, 2250 Biddle Road, Medford; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 27 — Klamath County Fairgrounds/Event Center, 3531 South 6th Street, Klamath Falls; 1 to 8 p.m.

Shifting plans, changing hands

The Jordan Cove project originated with Fort Chicago Energy in 2006, which designed the Coos Bay facility as a terminal for importing natural gas from foreign sources. Although federal and state regulators approved the import facility, the market shifted — eliminating the need for foreign natural gas imports as the U.S. increasingly became an exporter.

Fort Chicago became Canada-based Veresen Inc. in 2010 — reapplying for the Jordan Cove project, this time as an export facility. Federal regulators ultimately rejected Veresen's proposal in 2016, citing dubious market demand.

Nevertheless, Jordan Cove persisted.

Initially the impetus to file a new proposal came from Veresen, but Pembina Pipeline Corporation took over in 2017 after acquiring Veresen. Pembina, like Veresen, is a Canadian company.

The same year, in 2017, Pembina proposed the latest iteration of the Jordan Cove LNG project.

Where Jordan Cove begins and ends

Under Pembina, the Jordan Cove project culminates in an LNG terminal facility on 240 acres of property in the Port of Coos Bay. From there, LNG ships would transport their cargo out to the Pacific and on to markets in Asia.

However, the terminal is nothing without a pipeline. An integral piece of the project involves burying 229 miles of 26-inch diameter pipe between Coos Bay and a connection point with two other pipelines near Malin in Klamath County.

The route as proposed by Pembina meanders southeast from North Bend, cutting through rural Coos County before heading almost due east into southern Douglas County. It would pass between Winston and Myrtle Creek, crossing the South Umpqua River, before descending sharply into Jackson County.

The pipeline would cross the Rogue River just north of Shady Cove at Trail, before descending due southeast into Klamath County — eventually crossing the Klamath River and bisecting Highway 97 just south of Klamath Falls. From there it would cut through Falcon Heights, parallel Highway 39, then finally cut east to its final destination northeast of Malin.

At Malin, the proposal has the Jordan Cove pipeline meeting up with the Ruby Pipeline (from Wyoming) and Gas Transmission Northwest (GTN) Pipeline (from Alberta, Canada).

Pros and cons

In all, the proposed Jordan Cove pipeline spans four Oregon counties, crosses under several major waterways, and directly impacts more than 87 miles of land owned by private landowners, as well as 60 miles of timber lands and almost 82 miles of public lands. As a result, it has encountered stiff resistance, particularly from environmental activists and tribal groups.

Some of the resistance stems from a wider opposition to "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing — a technique commonly used to access natural gas. While lawmakers in Oregon recently passed a ban on fracking in the state, the Jordan Cove pipeline opens up more markets to fracked gas harvested elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

Environmental group Rogue Climate claims that the pipeline also tramples on the rights of private landowners and tribes whose land lies along the pipeline's route. They argue that it would damage fish habitats in multiple waterways, open up the possibility for contamination of drinking water, and create the potential for natural gas explosions along the route.

"The export terminal and increased fracking would make climate change worse," Rogue Climate said. "The terminal alone would become the largest climate polluter in Oregon by 2020."

Some of these claims have been borne out by the reports of federal and state regulators.

"Based on our review . . . we conclude that constructing and operating the Project would result in temporary, long-term, and permanent impacts on the environment and a number of significant environmental impacts," the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said in a report at the end of March.

The regulators went on to say that those impacts could be mitigated, and ultimately allowed the project to go forward.

In May, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rejected Jordan Cove's application for water quality certification, citing concerns that the project was not in compliance with state water quality standards. Nevertheless, DEQ rejected the application "without prejudice," meaning the company will have an opportunity to try again.

Pembina stresses that liquid natural gas is "very safe to transport and store," in addition to being non-toxic. What begins as natural gas is cooled to -260°F, condensing into a liquid that the company says is easier to move or store. The company says that LNG will not burn until it becomes a vapor, mixes with air and becomes diluted.

However, natural gas pipelines do carry the potential for incident. Last October, a pipeline in British Columbia ruptured and caught fire — causing evacuations in the immediate area and temporarily interrupting natural gas supplies for customers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including the Rogue Valley.

Economically, Pembina says that the Jordan Cove project would be a boon for Southern Oregon — creating 6,000 jobs during peak construction and more than 200 permanent positions once the project is completed. The company also claims that their operations would create about 8,500 "spin-off" jobs in the hospitality, retail, tourism, and healthcare fields; reduced to about 1,500 permanent jobs when it is finished.

Once up and running, Jordan Cove would generate more than $60 million per year in average property tax revenue for Coos, Klamath, Douglas and Jackson counties, Pembina says.

"At the State level, the Project would contribute an additional $50 million dollars to Oregon in state taxes to support critical public services including local schools, libraries, roads, and public safety," the company said.

Pembina has also said that it looks to create a "Jordan Cove Community Enhancement Plan" — committing more than $500 million toward local schools, infrastructure, and public safety over the course of about 15 years.

Rather than aiming to buy land from affected landowners directly, Pembina has pursued a policy of asking that landowners grant them an easement for constructing and burying the pipeline through their property.

"Once construction is complete, the landowner may farm, plant, graze or otherwise use the surface with the exception that no permanent building structures can be placed within the limits of the right of way," the company said.

As of this week, Pembina reported that 82 percent of private landowners in the pipeline's path had agreed to voluntary easement agreements.

“This 82 percent is more than just a number. It represents a tremendous measure of progress forward for Jordan Cove,” said Harry Andersen, Senior Vice President for Pembina. “This achievement reflects that a vast majority of the most impacted residents in southern Oregon are onboard with the Project and will help to make it a reality.”

Critics like Rogue Climate portend that Pembina will eventually threaten private landowners with eminent domain — strong-arming those still holding out when the project gets approval. They also assert that few of Jordan Cove's permanent jobs will go to local workers, as most positions are likely to require experience and qualifications not common in the Southern Oregon workforce.

Looking for approval

Since 2017, Pembina's Jordan Cove proposal has gone through a series of steps toward gaining ultimate approval of the project:

What's happening now?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will ultimately determine whether Jordan Cove owners Pembina can go forward with the project, or if they'll need to go back to the drawing board — or rather, whether Pembina will need to shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start all over again.

The FERC gave Jordan Cove muted approval in a draft environmental impact statement delivered at the end of March — telling Pembina that the project would be acceptable if it followed strict environmental guidance from the commission.

That nod from the FERC gave way to the public comment period, which wraps up July 5. Those who wish to comment can either submit statements online, send a paper copy to the FERC offices in Washington, D.C. (reference Project docket numbers CP17-494-000 and CP17-495-000) , or attend one of these upcoming public comment sessions:

  • June 24 — Southwestern Oregon Community College, 1988 Newmark Avenue, Coos Bay; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 25 — South Umpqua High School, 501 Chadwick Lane, Myrtle Creek; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 26 — Ramada Medford Hotel and Conference Center, 2250 Biddle Road, Medford; 1 to 8 p.m.
  • June 27 — Klamath County Fairgrounds/Event Center, 3531 South 6th Street, Klamath Falls; 1 to 8 p.m.

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