North America Pipelines News
Emotions Prevail at Ore. Pipeline Meetings
by Ted Sickinger The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
November 19, 2007
A chorus of concerns rang out this week as landowners along the
snaking route of a proposed natural gas pipeline showed signs of organizing to
oppose the line and liquefied natural gas terminals along the lower Columbia
Several hundred landowners, farmers, advocates and concerned residents
aired their complaints at public meetings this week in Maupin, Molalla,
McMinnville and, on Thursday, Forest Grove. The towns sit along the proposed
route of the Palomar pipeline, which would connect a planned LNG terminal near
Astoria with an interstate transmission line that runs through central Oregon
Douglas Sipe, a project manager from the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, was the man behind the lectern and thus the stand-in punching bag
for both his agency and the private companies that want to build the terminal
Most speakers expressed deep misgivings about the agency's ability to
deal with associated threats to people, wildlife, farmland and the
Tuesday night's meeting in Molalla was raucous.
"Emotions were running high," Sipe said. "It was hard for me to say
anything to make people happy."
Wednesday's meeting in McMinnville was lower key, if no less heartfelt.
Ilsa Perse, a landowner from Carlton, told Sipe that it was increasingly
difficult to discriminate between where the federal government ends and
private companies begin.
"California told these companies to take a hike, and I find it a little
weird that we now get the special privilege" of hosting them in Oregon, Perse
The Palomar pipeline is actually a joint venture between Northwest
Natural Gas Co., the state's largest gas utility, and TransCanada Pipelines
Ltd., which owns an interstate pipeline that runs through central Oregon to
Palomar is one of two proposed pipelines that would connect planned LNG
terminals on the lower Columbia River to TransCanada's line in central Oregon.
The second would connect to the planned Bradwood Landing LNG terminal 20 miles
upriver from Astoria. Both pipelines would run through Clatsop, Washington,
Yamhill, Marion, Clackamas and Wasco counties. A third LNG terminal is being
considered in Coos Bay, with a pipeline that runs to near the California
Supporters of the LNG projects and pipelines contend that the new gas
supply and pipelines would bolster economic development and protect the region
from price shocks as domestic and Canadian gas supplies get tighter.
Yet the California question looms large over all of the projects. Critics
say Oregon's gas needs are a fraction of the proposed terminals' capacity.
They worry that the state is a back door for shipping foreign fossil fuels to
its southern neighbor, where gas prices are higher and citizens have helped
block LNG proposals.
Palomar backers and the company bankrolling the Bradwood Landing LNG
terminal, Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas, Inc., don't even like to
associate the two projects together in public for fear that opposition to one
will infect the other.
NW Natural's rationale for Palomar is to diversify its customers' supply
of natural gas. Even if the LNG terminal is never built, the Portland company
says it wants to build the section of Palomar that links its distribution hub
in Molalla, southeast of Portland, with TransCanada's interstate line in
NW Natural says such a link has been contemplated for the past 15 years.
Palomar officials maintain that the company can rationalize extending the
pipeline farther west to serve growing areas of Washington County that NW
Natural doesn't serve today.
Critics remain skeptical. They contend the local gas monopoly,
constrained by the slow growth of its regulated business, wants a piece of the
lucrative interstate gas trade, which would complement its growing natural gas
storage facilities in Mist, near the LNG terminal.
Opponents of the projects maintain that a high-pressure, 36-inch pipe
crossing the Cascades -- one costing hundreds of millions of dollars --
doesn't make economic sense if NW Natural isn't moving vast quantities of gas
from an LNG terminal each day.
"There's no credible, straight-faced argument that these projects are
being driven by Oregon's needs," said Brent Foster, an advocate with Columbia
Sipe, the FERC project manager, acknowledged the concerns over California
at the public meetings, but he said the Palomar pipeline and the LNG terminal
at Bradwood would be evaluated separately since the owners intend to build
them regardless of whether the other project is approved. He also confirmed
many landowners' fears when he acknowledged Wednesday night in McMinnville
that they "won't necessarily have a vote" on the pipeline, even if it runs
across their land.
But Sipe stressed that the public input would help shape the agency's
environmental analyses of the project, which is a key piece of its approval
Many landowners fear the property and environmental damage that could
come with a 50- to 100-foot right-of-way across their property. Their concerns
range from the increased risk of wildfire and introduction of noxious weeds to
destruction of valuable farm and timberland. Many wonder who will pay their
attorneys' fees and the property taxes on land that is no longer productive,
or whether they can push the pipeline into existing public right-of-ways.
Landowners along the pipeline route are forming local chapters of a group
they call Oregon Citizens Against the Pipeline.
Jody Hawkins, a landowner from Yamhill, told Sipe on Wednesday that his
kids play on a baseball diamond 30 feet from the proposed pipeline route and
his house sits 200 feet away.
"If a 36-inch gas line (explodes), my house is gone, my kids are gone,"
This week's meetings aren't the only chance for the public to provide
input on the project. They can write or provide electronic comments to the
agency until Nov 28. FERC will hold another round of hearings after it issues
a draft environmental impact statement in June, Sipe said.
"They can think what they want about the federal government," Sipe said.
"But we're out there trying to protect the public while providing the
infrastructure that the nation needs."
Copyright (c) 2007, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Bradwood Landing LNG
NorthernStar Natural Gas, Inc.
Bradwood, OR United States