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Carrying risks

A proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon could expose people to explosions, toxic emissions and contaminated water, while also contributing to global warming, according to a new report by doctors.

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility released “Fracked Gas Infrastructure: A Threat to Healthy Communities” Wednesday.

The report details potential health threats from a 229-mile pipeline through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties that would carry natural gas to a proposed export facility north of Coos Bay.

The report says the project is one of six proposed in Oregon and Washington that rely primarily on gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing deep underground, a process known as “fracking.”

Report co-author Dr. Patricia Kullberg, former medical director of the Multnomah County Health Department in Portland, said the gas industry wants to turn the Pacific Northwest into a hub for processing and exporting natural gas to markets in Asia.

“We wrote this report because we feel like the public has the right and the need to know what impacts these very large fossil fuel infrastructure facilities would have on our land, our air, our water, our natural resources, our way of life,” Kullberg said. “And it turns out, there is quite a bit to know about and a lot of detail that has been obscured from the public eye.”

The report says communities targeted for gas infrastructure projects have lower incomes, higher unemployment rates and worse health than areas that can mount a stronger fight against the projects.

The new projects would further erode health in vulnerable communities, the report said.

Jordan Cove LNG, the local offshoot of the Canadian company Pembina, is proposing the natural gas pipeline and export facility in Southern Oregon.

Jordan Cove spokesman Paul Vogel said it’s ironic that the report faults the company for wanting to build in economically distressed parts of Southern Oregon when the project would provide an economic boost.

“This is actually a huge benefit,” Vogel said.

The $9.8 billion pipeline and export facility project would be the largest project of its kind in Oregon, according to a report by the economic analysis firm ECONorthwest.

During construction, $2.88 billion would be spent directly at Oregon businesses and $1.5 billion would go to Oregon workers, the ECONorthwest report said.

Vogel said Coos Bay has the best deep water port between San Francisco and Puget Sound. He said the port is an underused Oregon asset.

Shipping gas from Coos Bay to Asia will cut nine days off shipping times compared to sending gas out from the Gulf of Mexico and through the Panama Canal, Vogel said.

“That’s a huge advantage for Oregon and Southern Oregon,” he said.

The doctors’ report said the pipeline proposed through Southern Oregon would pass through areas of dry forest land already at risk from severe wildfires. A pipeline explosion could harm people nearby and set off a wildfire that would be very difficult to control.

A corridor of trees would have to be clearcut to build the underground pipeline, and trees would have to be kept permanently clear to avoid disturbances to the pipeline.

The report said corridors stretching for miles and miles would fill with flammable brush and weeds.

“Greater exposure to sun and wind would increase fire intensity and rate of spread, making the pipeline route into a quick-burning fuse that would allow fire to race through forested areas,” the report said.

In a myths and facts sheet issued this week, Jordan Cove said the cleared corridor will serve as “a firebreak in forests and wildlands that can be vital for dealing with the wildfire danger we face today in Oregon.”

Jordan Cove said the route would be monitored around-the-clock, providing immediate information about fire danger.

Vogel said if any problem is detected, the pipeline automatically shuts off. Company employees are also authorized to shut down the pipeline.

Vogel said Pembina, Jordan Cove’s parent company, operates 11,000 miles of natural gas pipeline in Canada and has a culture of safety.

According to the doctors’ report, erosion from pipeline construction and the clearing of trees and vegetation would increase sediment in waterways and lead to warmer temperatures harmful to fish. The warm water could also become a breeding ground for toxic algae blooms that poison drinking water supplies.

In May, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality declined to issue a Clean Water Act permit for the project, saying it didn’t have enough assurances the project wouldn’t harm waterways and fish habitat or increase erosion and landslide hazards.

DEQ said Jordan Cove can submit additional information and try again.

As for employment, the doctors’ report said the vast majority of jobs would be temporary — creating another boom-and-bust cycle for communities hurt by logging cutbacks.

A temporary labor camp for 2,100 construction workers in Coos Bay could attract drug dealers, spur prostitution and lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, the report said, citing similar scenarios at oil and gas sites in America.

Some of the construction workers could be subcontractors without health insurance, which would put strain on local health care systems, the report said.

The gas industry is dangerous for workers as well as firefighters, the report said.

“We hear a lot about the potential economic benefits of these facilities, but we hear very little about the economic costs,” Kullberg said.

The doctors’ report said too much gas is being produced in North America to be sold profitably within the continent. Producers must tap into new export markets and, therefore, are pushing for ways to export more gas via the Pacific Northwest.

“The state of Oregon and Washington are uniquely positioned to put the brakes on the expanded production and export of fracked gas,” the report said.

The doctors said investing in a clean energy economy would be more financially beneficial for communities. Projects could include building renewable power sources, upgrading the power grid, retrofitting existing buildings to make them more energy efficient and helping fossil fuel workers transition to new jobs.

The doctors said the six major gas infrastructure projects proposed in Oregon and Washington would contribute to global warming.

“This is not the time to be building new fossil fuel infrastructure — period,” said report co-author Dr. Mark Vossler, chairman of the Evergreen Hospital Cardiology Department in Kirkland, Washington.

The report said Oregon and Washington residents are already being harmed by hotter summers, drought, forest fires and diseases worsened by climate conditions.

In its facts and myths sheet, Jordan Cove said natural gas is clean-burning and a critical fuel source in worldwide efforts to address global climate change.

“Anyone who is opposing the displacement of coal is embracing and encouraging climate change,” the company said.

The company said labeling natural gas as “fracked” is meaningless because so much gas comes from fracturing processes.

Jordan Cove said “everyone — including opponents trying to scare people about natural gas — benefit from it every day.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

A pipeline of liquefied natural gas is constructed in Poland.