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LNG project's benefits don't outweigh risk

The order issued Monday authorizing exports of liquefied natural gas from the proposed Jordan Cove terminal in Coos Bay should be seen for what it is: a transparent attempt by the Trump administration to put its thumb on the scales in favor of a massive project with little public benefit and serious drawbacks.

The LNG terminal and associated pipeline that would stretch across Southern Oregon have been in the works for 15 years, first proposed as an import facility that would at least have brought natural gas to domestic consumers. Then, when new drilling technologies increased production in the United States and made gas cheaper, the project no longer made economic sense, and its backers switched to an export plan.

The project as currently structured would benefit Pembina, the Canadian company that now owns it, and U.S. and Canadian gas suppliers who would have a new way to get their gas to foreign markets. It would benefit Oregonians only to the extent that some of them might get temporary jobs building the pipeline, and it would pay tax revenue to the counties the pipeline would cross. But natural gas customers would see no benefit, and could even see their rates climb if exports limited the domestic supply.

Meanwhile, landowners who object to having a 3-foot diameter pipeline cross their property face the prospect of eminent domain proceedings to force them to sell easements to Pembina. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the project conditional approval in March, saying Pembina still had to secure the necessary state permits, but it could begin eminent domain actions anyway.

Oregon environmental and land-use agencies have not granted the permits, and opponents are seeking a court order invalidating the FERC decision and blocking the recent order.

Even if Pembina secures the necessary state permits, whether the project ever gets built is an open question. Global gas prices were falling even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, it’s unclear whether Jordan Cove will ever pencil out.

Property owners along the proposed pipeline route deserve to have their concerns addressed in court, and should be protected against eminent domain action at least until the project has been given final approval to proceed.

Even then, eminent domain is supposed to be reserved for projects that provide a public benefit. The Jordan Cove proposal was already rejected once because the alleged benefits did not outweigh the environmental risks. It should be again.