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Oregon Lacks say on Siting

by Editorial Board
The Register-Guard, January 15, 2008

In 2005, Congress approved an energy bill that snatched final siting approval for liquefied natural gas terminals from the states and handed it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

From an Oregon perspective, that transfer of authority, approved at the request of the LNG industry, becomes more frustrating every day, as concerns of state and local agencies continue to build with no assurance they will be addressed.

LNG terminals receive shipments of natural gas that has been super-cooled and stored as liquid. The massive terminals process the liquid back into gas and then send it to consumers via pipelines.

Oregon is home to three proposed LNG terminal locations, two of them on the lower Columbia River and one in Coos Bay. The Columbia River projects would require new 200-mile pipelines to ship the gas across the state to energy-hungry consumers in the Northwest and California.

The most advanced of the applications is Bradwood Landing, located 38 miles from the mouth of the Columbia. NorthernStar Natural Gas has proposed a nearly $1 billion terminal that the Houston-based developer says would receive two to three LNG shipments a week in large tankers from overseas.

A draft environmental analysis of the project that FERC released last year has drawn sharp criticism from a number of state agencies. Concerns include the project's potential effects on efforts to restore the Columbia River and estuary, environmental damage caused by dredging, disruption to fisheries and the site's vulnerability to landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding and other natural hazards.

The agencies also rightly questioned why there has been no independent assessment of the region's demand for liquefied natural gas or the need for a terminal in Oregon. With FERC's super-siting authority and the primary future demand for natural gas coming from California, why are new terminals being proposed for Oregon?

Local emergency response agencies and Clatsop County officials have expressed understandable concern that they lack the additional resources they would need to respond to an LNG emergency, and they have yet to reach agreements with NorthernStar on sharing the cost of public safety improvements. To get a sense of the magnitude of a potential emergency, one need only glance through a government study last year that warned that a terrorist attack against LNG tankers could cause an inferno so intense it could burn skin a mile away.

Underscoring public safety concerns is a new report by the General Accounting Office that said the Coast Guard lacks the resources to adequately protect tankers carrying liquefied natural gas to U.S. ports. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should make clear the possibility that assailants could target the special tankers that carry super-cooled gas from suppliers such as Nigeria and Trinidad to U.S. ports.

Several Columbia River ports also have expressed concerns about the costs that could result from security-related delays that would invariably result from LNG terminals on the Columbia.

Last year the Coast Guard announced rules for LNG carriers on the river saying LNG ships will be allowed to pass other vessels only at certain points on the river and that LNG vessels will be protected by 500-yard "exclusion zones." With shipping vessels that travel the Columbia costing as much as $60,000 a day to operate, port officials warn that LNG-related delays could prompt shipping firms to abandon ports along the Columbia for more reliable West coast destinations.

These are all vitally important issues that Oregonians normally could rely on their state and local governments to address before a final decision is made on siting. Now, it's up to a federal commission whose offices are nearly 3,000 miles away in Washington. D.C.

While it's too late to affect the Bradwood project, Congress should review the 2005 energy bill's sweeping and unwise usurpation of local control. Meanwhile, state and local officials should take every possible step - including litigation, if necessary - to ensure their concerns are fully addressed before any LNG terminals are sited in Oregon.

Editorial Board
Oregon Lacks say on Siting
The Register-Guard, January 15, 2008

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