Natural gas pipeline approved

PORTLAND, Ore. – Despite opposition from Oregon’s governor, tribes and environmental groups, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted 4 – 1 in favor of the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal at the Bradwood site on the Columbia River Sept. 18.

Bradwood is located in Clatsop County, 20 miles east of Astoria and only 38 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. It makes a convenient route for LNG carriers. Under the name Bradwood Landing LLC, NorthernStar Energy LLC plans to begin construction in 2009 and be in operation by 2012.

Plans also entail the construction of a 36-mile pipeline that connects Bradwood with the natural gas system of the Northwest Pipeline Corp., near Kelso, Wash.

When officials from the Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission learned of FERC’s decision in Washington, D.C., they called an emergency press conference that afternoon where state, environmental and tribal leaders spoke in opposition to the approval.

Brett VandenHeuvel, legal counsel for the organization Columbia Riverkeeper, said that once the facility is up and running it would increase the water temperature – an issue that they are already working with industries along the river to keep the temperature-sensitive fish from dying.

“Salmon are already struggling because of the heat increase in the Columbia River,” he said. “We are spending millions of dollars every year restoring salmon habitat in the estuary, and this project would degrade it.”

He also said that a method of underwater excavating, called “dredging,” would disrupt 58 acres of prime salmon habitat, and that greenhouse gases would increase by 30 percent.

Yakama Nation tribal council member Fidelia Andy called the Bradwood project approval a “step backward” in the protection of the salmon habitat on a state and local level.

Tribes along the Columbia have fished there for thousands of years and consider salmon more than just a viable food source. Brooklyn Baptiste, a member of the Nez Pearce tribal executive committee, said that salmon are central to their “cultural, spiritual and physical health.”

The Yakama, Nez Pearce, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes collaborated more than 30 years ago to create CRITFC in order to establish authority over fisheries management and legislation affecting the salmon and other fish species in the Columbia River.

The CRITFC, Columbia Riverkeeper, and supporting tribes and organizations have requested that FERC hold a new hearing on the Bradwood project.

They also have the support of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

“Oregon deserves a rehearing on this project,” he said in a statement. “Moving forward with this project as is, which is incomplete, disregards states’ rights in this process. If legal action is necessary to compel FERC to do this right, I am prepared to exercise this option.”

Clatsop County commissioners voted to approve pipeline construction in March, but 67 percent of the county’s voters rejected the project two days before FERC’s decision.

“Unless you are a gas company executive, standing to make billions of dollars off LNG, you are opposed to this project,” VandenHeuvel said.

State Rep. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, opposes the project on what he sees as a faulty environmental impact statement and an increased dependence on foreign sources. He explained that the EIS failed to adequately address the environmental impact that the 36-mile pipeline would have on Clatsop and Columbia counties, and on Cowlitz County, Wash.

“People would lose their land. We need to take a step back, re-do this environmental study, and really understand what’s going to happen if we put this project in.”

The EIS contains information and maps of the areas that the pipeline will snake through, which include forests, rangelands and a Christmas tree farm. It also states the potential effects of excavation.

Per the report, NorthernStar is required to provide FERC a status report and copies of agency clearances for wetlands, threatened and endangered species, and cultural resources prior to pipeline construction. The bulk of the EIS details the LNG terminal.

The four FERC commissioners primarily approved the project based on what they deemed as an increased demand for natural gas in the region, in addition to what they found in the EIS.

Currently, most of Oregon’s natural gas supplies come from western Canada, and a smaller amount from the northern Rockies. FERC Commissioner Philip D. Moeller said that he voted in favor of the project due to a decline in fields and an increase in demands from the oil sands project in Alberta.

Once completed, NorthernStar predicts that it will generate 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day for the Pacific Northwest. Current reports state that the region receives a daily dose of 0.3 bcf of gas from the Rockies and 0.9 bcf of gas from Canada.

Moeller, who was raised on a ranch outside of Spokane, Wash., said that FERC’s decision does not grant final approval of the Bradwood facility. There are 109 mitigation measures that NorthernStar must meet before the commission approves any construction. “Of the 109 conditions included in this order, 75 require the submission of information prior to construction,” he said.

Opponents of the project disagree, saying that there are enough domestic resources that could be tapped through the Rocky Mountain states and through alternative energy sources.

FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff, the lone commissioner who voted against the project, said there are “reasonable, environmentally preferable alternatives for serving the future energy needs of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Such alternatives include other domestic natural gas infrastructure and renewable and distributed energy resources.”

He also said that not all environmental concerns were addressed adequately in the EIS, including the screening system used by LNG carriers to keep fish out while cooling the water – an issue addressed at the CRITFC press conference.

“The evidence does not support a finding that the planned screening system will effectively mitigate the project’s impact on sensitive aquatic resources to a less than significant level,” he said. “Thus, contrary to the majority’s suggestion, the use of fish screen technology on irrigation canals, industrial and municipal water supply pipes, and hydropower projects is not necessarily transferable to LNG carriers.”

Despite the opposition, NorthernStar plans include a $59 million Salmon Enhancement Initiative. Information detailed in this plan states that action taken under the initiative will improve salmon survival by nearly 2 million juvenile fish per year.

The corporation also estimates that the construction process would create more than 450 jobs, and 65 permanent jobs, while contributing $7.8 million in taxes annually to Clatsop County.

“We are confident that we can satisfy all of the conditions contained in today’s order in an expedient manner, which would allow us to bring construction in the second half of 2009, said NorthernStar CEO William “Si” Garrett. “We will continue to work with the states of Oregon and Washington to secure necessary state approvals and FERC conditions.”

The EIS report states that most of the LNG would come from foreign sources, but some could come from Alaska.

For more information on the project, visit www.ferc.gov; on NorthernStar, www.bradwoodlanding.com; on CRITFC, www.critfc.org; and on Columbia Riverkeeper, www.columbiariverkeeper.org.