Some pipeline opponents flew over part of the proposed route of the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline on Thursday morning during a multi-day tour of both Colorado and Oregon.
The tour was organized by Colorado native Pete Kolbenschlag and Grants Pass resident Alex Budd in an effort to connect the two communities and educate each other about what pipeline opponents call their shared struggles. They made stops in areas of Colorado, then Klamath Falls, Talent and Coos Bay.
As the single-engine Cessna flew over southern Douglas County, Kolbenschlag asked questions about the checkerboard pattern of the land. Passengers pointed out which parcels were privately owned versus federally owned by dating the trees on the hillsides.
Francis Eatherington, a well-known local environmentalist who took part in the tour, pointed out where the pipeline would cross her property 4,000 feet below.
After looking at the hilly, rugged landscape, Kolbenschlag said, “It brings home the damage that would be caused by putting a pipeline through the coastal range there.
“Honestly what it also brought home to me is how impacted the coastal range clearly already is.”
As the plane descended into the North Bend airport, the North Spit — the area where a facility would be built to export gas overseas — came into view.
Budd said he grew up in Colorado and has always wanted to build relationships with people resisting fracking in those communities.
He said communities in the two states that are rooted in resource industries often have similar experiences but don’t talk to each other about them.
“We talk about them in isolation,” Budd said. “In reality, these are all interconnected and it’s happening at a much larger scale across the West.”
The proposed Jordan Cove project — a 230-mile Pacific Connector pipeline that would cross Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties to reach the North Spit — is an example of that interconnectedness for Budd. He said if the pipeline weren’t built, further oil and gas wells wouldn’t be drilled in Colorado because there wouldn’t be the export demand.
“These big corporate fossil fuel industries coming in and promising jobs and a brighter day and a new tomorrow only if we’re willing to sacrifice those things that make our community really special,” Budd said.
Proponents of the pipeline say it will bring more jobs and foster growth in the economically stagnant communities of Southern Oregon.
Pembina, the Canadian parent company of Jordan Cove, has said the project will create thousands of temporary construction jobs and about 200 permanent ones.
Earlier this month, Jordan Cove offered a new $30,000 incentive to landowners that allow the company right of way access onto their property.
That comes after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced a timeline for a decision on a final Environmental Impact Statement for the project — November 2019.
Pete Kolbenschlag, of Paonia, Colorado, said he first heard about the Jordan Cove project in 2006.
More than a year ago, he reached out to Budd after reading about pipeline opponents in Oregon.
“Alex and I just kind of kept the conversation going and decided this would be an opportunity to at least educate ourselves about the connection and other activists and the communities we’re organizing in,” Kolbenschlag said.
He said communities impacted by the pipeline need to have their voice heard.
“Impacted communities need to be part of the conversation, it isn’t just conversation for the business folks that stand to gain from it. The fact is that other people will experience impacts and they need to be at the table,” Kolbenschlag said.
But, he said he thinks the connection of activists is what’s really going to make a difference in their efforts.
“Both kind of telling the story and then using that process to actually connect people in a way that makes us more effective as organizations and activists,” Kolbenschlag said.
Coos County Commissioner John Sweet visited Colorado earlier this month and spoke during a roundtable discussion on Jordan Cove with federal administration and elected officials, according to The Grand Junction Sentinel.
During that meeting, Sweet said Coos County would benefit from the high-paying jobs and boost to the property tax base as a result of the pipeline and corresponding export terminal.
He told the paper that he had a desire to learn more about the oil and gas drilling industry during his visit.
Eatherington visited western Colorado during the activist tour and watched a public testimony on a permit for new wells in Battlement Mesa, Colorado.
She said she was shocked to find out the impacts of oil wells on residents in the town, which Eatherington said are built as close as 500 feet to homes.
“I always thought ‘Oh, fracking’s bad,’ but when you actually see it from the air and you see that each one of these thousands of wells needs its own road to go to, it’s own pipeline,” Eatherington said.
She said residents in the Colorado retiree community complain about not being able to sleep at night because of all the lights and noises.
For Budd, the tour allowed participants to see themselves as part the bigger picture.
“To see ourselves as part of a larger story,” Budd said. “I think that there’s a lot of power in that.”