The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its draft environmental impact statement for the Jordan Cove Energy Project last week.
The project’s proposed pipeline, which has generated controversy across Southern Oregon for more than a decade, would connect with existing pipelines that originate in Canada and transport natural gas to Malin in Klamath County. The new pipeline would traverse 229 miles from Malin to an export terminal in Coos Bay, where gas would be taken to international markets.
The pipeline would cross 64 miles of land in Douglas County. It would also cross 122 miles of Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians historic territory. The Cow Creek tribe’s historic territory spans multiple Southwest Oregon counties.
While the statement is not a decision on the project, it shows federal regulators are making progress on the proposal.
Decisions on several local and state permits for the project are pending. Last month, the Oregon Department of State Lands delayed its decision on the project’s removal-fill application from March to Sept. 20. The agency said it needed more time to review more than 49,000 public comments submitted for the application.
More than 1,100 pages of the statement are accompanied by 34 appendices. Regulators included 137 recommendations that the energy company will need to meet in order for the project to be approved.
Jordan Cove will be able to address the recommendations before the agency releases a final environmental impact statement and makes a final decision.
The draft statement’s 90-day public comment period concludes on July 5 and will include public hearings in Southern Oregon. The final statement and final decision are scheduled on Oct. 11 and Jan. 9, 2020, respectively.
The pipeline would cross more than 300 rivers and streams and traverse many areas of steep terrain through several different geologic strata and ecosystems, where threatened and endangered species reside.
“We conclude that constructing and operating the Project would result in temporary, long-term, and permanent impacts on the environment,” read a statement released by the agency.
The agency said many of the impacts would not be significant or would be able to be reduced to less than substantial levels by “recommended impact avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures.”
Two impacts would be adverse and significant, according to the statement. There would be a temporary impact on housing in Coos Bay and a permanent impact on the visual character of Coos Bay.
“Furthermore, constructing and operating the Project is likely to adversely affect 13 federally-listed threatened and endangered species including the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and coho salmon,” according to FERC.
Pembina Pipeline Corp., the Canadian-based energy company that owns the project, said the statement shows continuing momentum.
“Pembina is carefully reviewing the extensive document received today,” read a statement from the company. “We can, though, reconfirm three important things: Pembina’s commitment to protecting the environment and meeting all state and federal requirements, working with landowners and communities on issues important to them, and that we are confident that our application will successfully meet FERC’s strict approval criteria when they make a final decision in January 2020.”
Ownership of the proposed project has switched several times since it was first proposed in 2005. FERC denied the project in 2016, stating there was little evidence of need for it. The project’s former owner, Veresen Inc., refiled an application with FERC in 2017, anticipating the agency would be more favorable under the Trump administration.
However, the commission currently lacks a fifth and potentially-decisive commissioner. Former Commissioner Kevin McIntyre stepped down from his post in 2018, citing health issues.
“FERC remains divided by a 2-2 split along party lines over issues of natural gas infrastructure,” read a natural gas pipeline policy update recently released by Washington Analysis, LLC, a research firm that analyzes changes in public policy that impact the financial markets.
Appointing a fifth commissioner may take several months as the White House recently announced that it would not appoint David Hill, a former Energy Department official, according to the firm.
“Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, (who was appointed by former President Barack Obama), remains the key swing vote for the quartet,” the firm said. “LaFleur has repeatedly highlighted that her interpretation of the law in this case is that a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions analysis is required prior to issuing certificates for pipelines and LNG terminals.”
The firm said the White House may also choose to replace LaFleur, which may take several months.
Landowners in Douglas County are already voicing opposition to FERC’s suggestion that the environmental impacts of the pipeline could be adequately mitigated.
“I vehemently disagree with that,” said Stacy McLaughlin, a local landowner whose property would be crossed by the pipeline.
She also questioned the impact statement’s impartiality. She said many of the environmental analyses referenced in the statement were conducted by engineering firms that were hired by Jordan Cove. Although those firms are required to submit conflict of interest statements to FERC, McLaughlin has long been frustrated that details about the hired firms are considered confidential proprietary information.
She said she and hundreds of other landowners are going to scour the statement in the coming weeks with an eye to how the pipeline may impact people’s properties, natural resources and safety.