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Jordan Cove project suffers two setbacks

The proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon and liquefied natural gas export facility in Coos Bay had two setbacks this month when the state's geologist raised questions about earthquake safety and Oregon's junior senator changed his position to actively oppose the project.

If approved, the project would install a 229-mile pipeline to carry natural gas through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to an export facility in Coos Bay, where the gas would be compressed into liquid form and shipped to overseas markets.

The venture's future rests in the hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected the proposal once and now is considering a new application from Jordan Cove LNG. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's newly stated opposition to the project is significant because he is the first statewide elected official to stake out a clear position, but he has no power to block it. The concerns raised by State Geologist Brad Avy and the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries he heads are potentially more consequential.

Avy's letter criticizing Jordan Cove's analysis of earthquake and tsunami hazards has been sent to FERC. In it, Avy challenges the company's statements that no faults exist that could cause earthquakes except in the Klamath Falls area. He notes that the state has mapped faults in the Coos Bay area, and says the applicant's assertion that ancient, inactive faults do not pose a risk of rupture is inaccurate and misleading.

Avy further notes that Oregon stands at risk of a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake of 9 magnitude, featuring long, severe shaking, and he called on the applicants to map the entire pipeline route using laser technology to look for active faults that may not have been identified yet. And he points out that the LNG plant in Coos Bay would be built within a tsunami inundation zone, vulnerable to damage from waves triggered by a major quake.

Merkley's opposition is based on the threat of using eminent domain to force the sale of privately owned land along the pipeline route, a tactic he opposes, and the environmental consequences of promoting fossil fuel use and generating carbon emissions from the export facility. In a guest opinion published in the Mail Tribune last week, he laid out those concerns but did not mention the earthquake risk.

Put Merkley's concerns together with the risk of what could happen in a major earthquake, and federal regulators should have enough justification to reject the Jordan Cove project for a second time.