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Feds say pipeline environmental damage can be minimized

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says a proposed natural gas pipeline and export facility in Southern Oregon would cause significant environmental impacts, but those impacts can minimized.

On Friday, FERC issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline Project and Jordan Cove export terminal.

“As described in the final EIS, the FERC staff concludes that approval of the project would result in a number of significant environmental impacts: however, the majority of impacts would be less than significant because of the impact avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures proposed by Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector and those recommended by staff in the EIS,” FERC said in a summary of its findings.

The final EIS said constructing and operating the project would impact soil, water, wetlands, vegetation, wildlife, 15 threatened and endangered species, land use, recreation, landscape views, traffic, cultural resources, housing, air quality and noise levels.

Clearing trees to make way for the pipeline would impact more than 2,000 acres of forest, including 750 acres of old-growth forest. The pipeline would cross more than 300 waterbodies, including the Rogue, Klamath and Coos Rivers, the document said.

After construction, the primary impact would be the permanent swathe of cleared trees along the pipeline route. The visual impact would be similar to that from roads and other utilities, the final EIS said.

Release of the document doesn’t mean the project has won final approval from federal, state and local governments that are considering permits for various aspects of the project.

A 229-mile, 3-foot-diameter underground pipeline would cross through Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to a proposed export facility north of Coos Bay.

The pipeline would carry American and Canadian gas to the coast for overseas shipping to Asian markets.

“Today’s FEIS release represents a significant step forward for the Jordan Cove terminal and pipeline project and its investment in Oregon,” said project spokesman Paul Vogel.

He said the release of the document is a necessary step before FERC can issue an order approving the project.

Construction spending for the project is projected at $9.8 billion. Of that, $2.88 billion would be spent at Oregon businesses and $1.5 billion would go to Oregon workers, according to an economic analysis by Portland-based ECONorthwest.

“Jordan Cove will bring much-needed jobs to rural Oregon and tremendous tax benefits to the state, contributing significant revenue for education, public safety and firefighting,” Vogel said.

Groups opposed to the project said the final EIS acknowledges many elements of the proposed project have yet to be developed or specified.

Without complete, detailed plans, there is no basis for FERC’s claim that long-term, significant environmental impacts can be mitigated, the groups said.

Opponents pointed to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s denial of a Clean Water Act permit for the project this spring. State officials said they didn’t have reasonable assurances the project wouldn’t harm water quality, but said the company proposing the project could submit new information and try again.

“FERC continues to gloss over Oregon’s findings that this project will harm the streams and rivers that our communities rely upon for drinking water and fishing. This project can’t proceed without approval from the state,” said Stacey Detwiler of Rogue Riverkeeper, which works to protect clean water and fish. “Oregon must stay strong to its values of protecting clean water and a stable climate so Jordan Cove LNG never sees the light of day.”

Opponents said the project will increase global reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change.

But Vogel said exporting North American natural gas will help fight climate change by offsetting coal with clean-burning natural gas.

Opponents point out the federal government denied a similar version of the project in 2016 because of negative impacts to landowners along the route and a lack of public need for the project.

Opponents said they plan to rally at the Oregon Capitol in Salem Thursday to urge Gov. Kate Brown to stand against the project.

Vogel said while progress has been made at the federal level for the project, uncertainty remains over whether Oregon will issue necessary permits. He said state permits are a critical component of the regulatory process and would enable critical investment in Oregon.

Landowners who haven’t reached agreements with Pembina — the Canadian company behind the project — for use of their property say they remain fearful eminent domain could be used against them.

“Myself and over 90 other landowners along the pipeline route are facing eminent domain if this project gets a permit from FERC,” said Ron Foord, a landowner in Coos Bay. “I am concerned about our safety and groundwater, and quite frankly, FERC should deny the use of eminent domain to export gas because that’s simply not for public use.”

Pembina said it has voluntary easement agreements with a majority of landowners along the route and has offered generous compensation for use of property.

To read the summary and final EIS, see www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2019/11-15-19-FEIS.asp.

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

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said a proposed natural gas pipeline through Southern Oregon would cause environmental damage, but most of the impacts can be minimized. Pembina file photo of pipeline construction in Canada.