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Worth the risk?

It’s difficult to imagine the staggering scale of a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Jordan Cove on Coos Bay, part of a $7.6 billion plan by Canadian energy company Veresen to export gas to Asian markets.

Over a four-year period, up to 2,100 workers would remove 6 million cubic yards of sand to create a slip for massive transport ships. The sand then would be used as fill to raise the spit 40 to 60 feet so that the facility can withstand a tsunami and survive a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Located across the bay from the North Bend airport, the 500-acre natural gas liquefaction plant would surround and overlook the Roseburg Forest Products mill that is currently the most prominent industrial complex on the north spit.

To the east of the mill, a 420-megawatt power plant would be built to provide the electricity for a refrigeration system that would cool the natural gas to minus-260 degrees before it is pumped into two tanks, each about 180 feet tall with a diameter of 270 feet, on the western side of the property.

A slip would be cut into the spit for 950-foot-long ships that would pull into the bay to load up gas for transport to Asia and other markets. A moving security zone of 500 yards would be maintained around each vessel transporting gas, according to a draft environmental impact statement issued in November by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Because of the sensitive cargo in the ships, the U.S. Coast Guard would escort the vessels through international waters, and a sheriff’s boat would guide them through the bay.

Currently, large “chip ships” pull into the bay to load up with wood products. The liquefied natural gas ships would be larger, though they wouldn't sit as deep in the water.

The gas would come to the bay through a 232-mile pipeline that would traverse Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties and would require hiring up to 1,844 workers to build.

A work camp would be built just to the west of the Conde McCulloch Memorial Bridge to provide housing for those involved in the construction project. An existing rail bridge is being considered to transport workers across the bay to avoid adding congestion to Highway 101.

Michael Hinrichs, spokesman for Jordan Cove Energy Project, said the average salary of $85,000 a year for construction workers will pump dollars into the local economy. Workers will be provided with housing and meals.

“This is the largest single investment in the region that we know of,” he said.

It’s a project that has drawn praise from some local residents who have seen the economy sputter for years. It’s also drawn criticism because of the project's environmental impacts and the potentially explosive nature of the product itself.

FERC's draft EIS outlines worst-case scenarios should a leak from the ships' tanks or the plant's storage tanks form a vapor cloud. Such a cloud could ignite over a wide area, potentially inflicting burns on workers and residents. Structures within one-third of a mile potentially could ignite from the heat.

Hinrichs, whose company already has invested $200 million to plan for the project, said the closest house would be 1.3 miles from the tanks, and the airport is 1.1 miles away. According to his company’s modeling, a worst-case rupture from a tank would be localized and wouldn’t damage the closest neighbor, the Roseburg mill.

“You’d probably see a big explosion and a large fire,” he said.

The tanks have a dual containment system, Hinrichs said. Even if there was a major rupture, berms would contain all the liquid from the tanks and foam would be sprayed over the liquid as a further precaution. Hinrichs said a rupture of the tanks would be difficult because they are made of 3-foot-thick concrete and are encased in other materials to make them withstand a natural disaster, he said. The tanks sit on pendulum isolators, which help relieve the vibrations from an earthquake.

“Around the world, you don’t see storage containers of this design causing this kind of disaster,” Hinrichs said.

Gas detection monitors would be installed around the bay, and the plant would have its own fire department and emergency plans.

Hinrich's company didn’t model for the effects of a rupture of the transport ships as they traverse the channel, and the potential for a migrating vapor cloud that could ignite has led to the most speculation of a possible disaster to the local community, Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs said most people are skeptical about building an LNG facility on sand, but he said engineers say the “angular sand” found in the bay is ideal for compaction compared to the “spherical sand” found at most beaches.

Massive machines will vibrate the sand while it is compacted to provide a stable base, Hinrichs said. The edges of this sand base will be fortified to withstand waves.

Jody McAffree, executive director of Citizens Against LNG, has been one of the most ardent critics of the project since it was first proposed in 2004.

“Why would we want this here when no other port in California would want it?” she said. “Why put a storage facility straight across from a runway?”

McAffree said the LNG facility is too close to the airport and is being built on a bend in the bay, which she said increases the chance of a shipping accident.

The bay will be forever changed by the facility because of plans to raise the 500-acre area 40 to 60 feet. In addition, the two storage tanks would sit even higher.

Despite claims by Jordan Cove, McAffree said building the facility on sand and digging through sediment to install a pipeline is problematic.

“It’s such a huge hazard,” she said. “It’s on sand that’s going to liquefy.”

McAffree said the environmental damage could be significant to nearby Henderson Marsh, which attracts migratory bird species. The crabbing, oyster and fish industry also could be severely impacted by such a huge change to the local environment.

“If they ruin the oysters, they ruin people’s jobs,” she said.

Lilli Clausen, owner of Clausen’s Oysters since 1981, said she already has brief periods when she can’t harvest oysters when contaminants wash into the bay.

“When the New Carissa ran aground, it almost wiped us out,” she said, referring to a freighter that was pushed ashore during a storm and spilled 70,000 gallons of fuel oil into the water.

Clausen, who employs up to 25 workers in the summer and 16 to 20 in the winter, produces oysters that are shipped to restaurants up and down the West Coast.

Clausen said the pipeline to Jordan Cove will be installed through her oyster beds and the work will stir up a lot of silt that will contaminate her oysters.

Hinrichs said Jordan Cove is looking at installing the pipeline with a drilling technique that bores under the channel to minimize disturbing the oyster beds.

Even so, he said, “We will have an impact on Lilli Clausen.” Hinrichs has met with Clausen to find ways to mitigate any disruptions.

While some residents are opposed to the pipeline and LNG facility, others think it will be a shot in the arm for the community and bring in the kind of high-paying jobs the area desperately needs.

“To be honest, it’s a game-changer,” said Brooke Walton, co-chairwoman of Boost Southwest Oregon, a nonprofit formed to get the word out about the project.

Local businesses will have to prepare for rapid expansion, but also anticipate the workforce tapering off over time, she said.

Walton said the area is still heavily dependent on timber products, and the harbor needs more diversification of industry.

The location of the LNG facility is close enough to benefit the community but far enough away to not dominant the towns of North Bend and Coos Bay.

“A lot of businesses would like to have the industries out on the north spit,” Walton said. “It’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Walton said she’s heard the skepticism about using sand as a base for the facility, but she said many homes and businesses in the area have sand underneath them.

“If it is compacted enough, it is better than concrete,” she said.

In the case of a tsunami or an earthquake, Walton said she would be worried about many buildings and facilities in the area other than the LNG facility.

“Much of our current infrastructure is not built to earthquake standards,” she said.

There have been some preliminary discussions about being able to tap into LNG’s power plant if electricity was disrupted along the coast, and that would be very beneficial for the community, Walton said.

A pilot, Walton said the planes approaching or taking off from the airport fly in a different direction than the LNG facility.

“If you look at it from the air, you can see it wouldn’t cause any problems,” she said.

After the project is completed, the facility would require about 150 workers for the plant plus another 50 jobs in support industries.

While the number of jobs doesn’t seem like a lot, Walton said even a few dozen new jobs is a boost to the local economy.

“Fifty jobs is huge out here,” she said.

If Jordan Cove gets approval, it hopes to begin work in late 2015. The Pacific Connector pipeline will take about two years to build, but the earth-moving project and plant in Jordan Cove will take four years. It would be the first LNG plant on the West Coast.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

For more stories, videos, an interactive map and links to online resources, visit www.mailtribune.com/project-pipeline.

North Bend resident Jody McAffree finds the Jordan Cove LNG export project ill-conceived. Maiil Tribune / Bob Pennell
Michael Hinrichs, spokesman for the Jordan Cove Energy Project, stands in the Jordan Cove area where about 6 million cubic yards of sand will be removed to create a slip for ships and raise the spit by 40 to 60 feet. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell