Jordan Cove LNG Battle Heating Up

Coos Bay's entrance.\Photo by Alex Derr.
Coos Bay's entrance.\Photo by Alex Derr.

While there has been furious activity behind the scenes, there has been little publicly visible movement on the Jordan Cove front for many months.  The company that proposes to develop an LNG export terminal on Coos Bay’s North Spit initiated a new application process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), submitted preliminary, incomplete applications to various agencies, and continued to promote the project, which loomed like an ominous cloud but hadn’t taken definite shape.  Now things have begun to move, and the battle is joined again.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project (ultimately owned by Canadian corporation Pembina) has now submitted its applications to both the state and federal governments under the Clean Water Act which will be considered respectively by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and has also submitted its application for dredging and filling required for the LNG terminal and its associated pipeline to the state’s Department of State Lands. 

The public comment periods are finally underway.  Oregon Shores will be in the forefront of the opposition during these permitting processes.  The public will have until July 21 (60 days from May 22 date of the formal application) for the public to comment on the Clean Water Act certifications to DEQ and the Corps of Engineers (although opponents, including Oregon Shores, have requested an extension due to the complexity of the case).  For instructions on how to comment, go here

Questions about the DEQ’s process can be addressed to DEQ’s Jordan Cove project coordinator, Mary Camarata, at 541-687-7435 or toll free within Oregon at 800-844-8467.

Jordan Cove also applied on May 10 to the Department of State Lands for a permit for the dredging and filling of the estuary that will be part of the project.  This department began a “completeness review.”  The applicant has failed these before, and without explanation, word arrived on June 5 that the application had been withdrawn yet again.  If the applicant eventually files an application and the department determines that this time the application is complete, a comment period will begin, which will include at least three public hearings.

Oregon Shores, working through our Coastal Law Project (a partnership with the Crag Law Center), will be raising a range of objections as part of all these processes.  Our key arguments include: dredging and filling in Coos Bay and associated wetlands adjacent to Henderson Marsh and Jordan Cove (the place, not the company) will do unacceptable damage to these important aquatic resources; additional dredging along the main navigational channel to allow access to LNG tankers will alter habitats in the estuary and may impact clamming and crabbing areas; the applicant hasn’t established that its plans for “mitigating” the damage done to the estuary are in any way adequate; the method for drilling a pipeline under the bay is unproven; once the terminal is operation, the LNG vessels transiting the bay will interfere with the ability of other boats to access public trust resources in the bay including fishing and shellfish areas.  There will be more, once our comments are complete.

We’ll be fighting with public opinion at our backs.  A recent survey by a professional public opinion firm discovered that 57 percent of Oregonians strongly oppose the Jordan Cove project or lean toward opposing it, while 22 percent strongly favored or leaned toward favoring it, with 20 percent undecided.  The results were even more striking when only those with strong opinions are counted—30 percent strongly oppose the project, with only six percent strongly in favor.  Significantly, the results were essentially the same in Coos County, despite Jordan Cove’s relentless public relations campaign and claims of strong local support.

These regulatory processes will be a key focus for Oregon Shores’ Land Use Program, no doubt for many months.  Still to come is a crucial battle on another front, the local land use permitting process.  The local land use regulations can be an Achilles’ heel for huge multinational projects.  While Coos County approved Jordan Cove’s land use application the last time around, Oregon Shores successfully appealed this approval to the Land Use Board of Appeals, and won.  The victory was temporary, because Jordan Cove’s application at the federal level was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), so the company didn’t fight any further at the time.  Instead, Jordan Cove started a new application process, hoping for better results from FERC under the Trump administration.  They will have to apply again at the local level, and Oregon Shores will take the lead on behalf of LNG opponents in resisting local approval.

Without local land use approval it should be harder for state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of State Lands to issue permits regarding water quality, dredging and other aspects of the project.  This in turn means that the state could not certify the project’s compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) which should make it harder or impossible to get federal permits. Under CZMA, the federal government is required to be consistent with a state’s approved coastal management program, so if a state declares that a project is non-compliant, the federal government should theoretically honor that decision by rejecting federal permits.

As these various processes continue, with the fate of the Coos Bay estuary and North Spit in the balance, we will provide updates and suggestions for making public comments.  For more information, contact Phillip Johnson, (503) 754-9303, [email protected].