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Pipelines and Battle Lines

With memories of Standing Rock still fresh, a proposed fracked gas pipeline in Oregon threatens West Coast water



On a rainy weekday afternoon last November, about 20 people from Northern California joined a 200-person rally outside the Oregon capitol in Salem. They had assembled partly in support of the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota. In the weeks prior, police on the northern Great Plains had inflicted beatings on anti-DAPL protesters, shot hundreds with concussion grenades and rubber bullets, and even deployed military-surplus equipment such as armored vehicles and a long-range acoustic device, a noisy crowd-control device that reportedly shattered at least one person's eardrums.

The main focus of the Salem demonstration, however, was an infrastructure project similar to the DAPL but much closer to home. Spurred by the newfound ability to extract vast shale deposits from the Rocky Mountains' western slopes via hydrologic fracturing (fracking), a Canadian oil and gas company named Veresen has proposed to ship natural gas from the Rockies west to Asian markets via a newly constructed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Coos Bay, Ore., where gas would be chilled and liquefied for easier and cheaper storage and transport. Known as the Jordan Cove Energy Project, it would be the first Pacific Coast LNG terminal.

The terminal would be supplied by the 233-mile Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, which would originate at a natural gas transport hub near Malin, Ore., and snake beneath five major rivers on its way to Coos Bay. One river beneath which the pipeline would be plumbed is the mighty Klamath, which rises in southern Oregon and meets the ocean roughly 240 miles away at the Humboldt-Del Norte county lines.

At the rally, indigenous people from the Klamath Basin talked about building a stronger interstate alliance against the project.

"We gotta help our neighbors, the Oregonians!" said a Hoopa Valley tribal member who identified herself as Missy who lives along the Klamath River in Northern California into a bullhorn. "They may not know they need our help. But they need our help!"

Missy then pondered whether opposition to the Jordan Cove Energy Project would require a direct-action campaign similar to the one at Standing Rock.

"I look at what's going on over at Standing Rock, and it makes me scared. But if we have to do the same thing here, will you do that with us here?" she asked. The crowd let out an affirmative whoop.


The nationwide boom in horizontal fracturing (or "fracking") has fostered numerous proposals to push oil and natural gas out to coastal ports through newly constructed pipelines, but resistance to these plans is also increasing, in part because thousands of people who visited Standing Rock last fall returned home and took up local fights.

In 2016, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) twice rejected Veresen's applications to build the Jordan Cove Energy Project. Leaders of Donald Trump's administration, however, have vowed to see the project through. At a presentation to the Institute of International Finance forum in Washington on April 20th, Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council (and former Goldman Sachs president), vowed that Trump will step up approvals for LNG export terminals in the name of boosting the U.S. economy, and then specifically referred to the Jordan Cove project.

"The first thing we're going to do is we're going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest," Cohn said.

California has a critical link to the Jordan Cove project: the 680-mile Ruby Pipeline, completed in 2011, which delivers the natural gas from the Rocky Mountain gas fields—the Jonah Field in Wyoming, the Piceance Basin in Colorado, the Uintah Basin in northern Utah—to Oregon. Northern California's main electricity supplier, PG&E, is one of three companies that helped build the Ruby Pipeline and remains a part owner of it. PG&E's network of pipelines deliver Ruby Pipeline gas to the North Bay and other regions of the Golden State.

The Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, too, would tie into the Ruby Pipeline, without which the Jordan Cove Energy Project could not be built.

Opponents of the Jordan Cove project are mounting increasing pressure on Oregon's elected officials to stop the project, but even the state's Democratic Party leaders have either embraced the project or stood aside. So far, a combination of grassroots opposition and questionable economics have combined to delay the project, and now many opponents are talking about the possibility of mounting a massive direct action civil disobedience campaign.

Perry Chocktoot, a tribal council member of the Klamath Tribes in Chiloquin, Ore., says that indigenous people from throughout the region will be increasingly asserting themselves in the struggle from this point forward. "If this thing gets approved," he says, "we're going to call tribes from all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada, to ask for solidarity."


The struggle concerning the Jordan Cover project has been ongoing for more than a decade. The Federal Energy Regulation Commission first considered Jordan Cove in 2007. Back then, it was proposed as an import project, which would have funneled gas from Russia or the Middle East to consumers on the West Coast, especially California.

In 2009, FERC issued a permit, but vacated the decision in 2012 as import prospects sank. Then the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima power plant created a different opportunity. After the disaster, Japan and other Asia Pacific countries began phasing out nuclear power and replacing it mostly with LNG. In 2013, a Veresen subsidiary resubmitted an application to FERC that re-envisioned Jordan Cove as an export terminal that could ship 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day. That's enough to meet 8 percent of Japan's current demand.

A March 2016 FERC order denying the application noted that Veresen and its partner at the time, Williams Companies of Oklahoma, failed to prove that adequate demand for its product exists in Asia and also noted the "significant opposition from directly-impacted landowners."

In September, Trump alluded to the Jordan Cove project on the campaign trail, during a speech to an oil and gas drilling conference in Pittsburgh, FERC's failure to support it as an alleged example of "the Obama/Clinton restriction agenda." In February, Trump appointed Veresen CEO Don Althoff as a member of his "infrastructure team" that is developing recommendations on moving major building projects more quickly through regulatory reviews. He is in the process of nominating three new members to the five-member FERC, one of whom, Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner Robert Powelson, a Republican, has stated that people opposing pipeline projects are engaged in a "jihad."

For most of the past decade, landowners along the pipeline right-of-way have been the backbone of an opposition movement to it. This opposition runs the political gamut and includes conservatives concerned with private property rights and the damage to the land.

"This company, Veresen, has no concept of what the land means to us," says Bill Gow, who labels himself a reluctant Donald Trump supporter and who owns a 2,500-acre ranch in Myrtle Creek, Ore., which the pipeline would cut through. "We didn't choose to live in these places for the money, but that's all the company cares about."

Opponents note the economic damage the project would wreak on landowners along the pipeline route, as well as the far greater number of jobs that would result from investments in renewable energy. Moreover, the Jordan Cove terminal would be built in a region vulnerable to tsunamis and earthquakes, while the pipeline, full of high-pressure gas, would pass through an area with a high risk of wild fires. The pipeline would also entail a 100-foot-wide linear clear cut across more than 60 miles of mature second- and old-growth forests.

Other critics cite climate change as an overriding concern. Since the turn of the millennium, the planet has burned through global temperature records, meaning the sorts of harrowing scenarios climate scientists have long predicted—such as rising seas that swallow up cities, more wrathful storms and droughts, and an accelerating decline in global biodiversity—are increasingly close at hand or already occurring. While natural gas is often touted as a cleaner burning energy source than coal, fracking wells have been documented to leak substantial amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that makes gas-fired electricity a worse contributor to the global climate crisis than coal.

By giving Western producers access to the world's largest gas market (consisting of Japan, the biggest consumer, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific countries), the Jordan Cove project could set off a new drilling boom on public lands, particularly in the Piceance Basin of the Rocky Mountains.

In a shocking announcement last July, the U.S. Geological Service deemed the western Colorado gas basin to have the second largest reserve of recoverable natural gas in the United States. The announcement thrilled the region's political and business leaders, who are increasingly clamoring for the Jordan Cove project's approval.


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