A $10 billion gas-transmission project under development in Oregon could open up Asian markets for Utah’s natural gas, long plagued by low prices because of a persistent domestic glut and the inherent difficulty of shipping the product overseas.
Federal regulators are now reviewing the environmental impacts of the Jordan Cove LNG project, which aims to connect an existing pipeline in southern Oregon to the Port of Coos Bay, where a terminal would be built to liquefy the gas and load it onto ships.
“We have natural gas that is stranded and not used, so it is being flared or vented to no benefit,” Uintah County Commissioner Bart Haslem told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at a field hearing Thursday in Medford, Ore. "We could be shipping this gas to other countries to replace other, dirtier sources of energy and receive the benefits to our economies and environment.”
Uintah, Utah’s largest gas producing county, was joined by officials from neighboring Duchesne County, as well as gas-producing counties in Wyoming and Colorado to speak in favor of the project proposed by the Canadian energy firm Pembina Pipeline Corp.
The firm seeks to build the 229-mile, 36-inch-diameter Pacific Connector gas pipeline from the town of Malin — where there would be a tie-in with the existing Ruby pipeline — to a liquefied natural gas, or LNG, terminal it plans to build on 240 acres it owns on Coos Bay’s North Spit. Kinder Morgan’s Ruby pipeline runs 680 miles from the Opal Hub in southwest Wyoming across northern Utah and Nevada and into Oregon.
The Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter is fighting the project as part of a statewide coalition called No LNG Exports, arguing the pipeline would clear-cut a 95-foot-wide swath through southwestern Oregon’s forests, farms and rivers, such as the Rogue and Umpqua, valued for their salmon runs. Exporting the West’s natural gas would drive up prices for U.S. consumers by up to 25% and would promote more drilling and fracking on public lands, the groups contend.
The project recently failed to secure a permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which concluded proponents have not demonstrated how the pipeline and terminal would comply with the state’s water quality standards.
“There are 400 [stream] crossings where the pipeline would threaten drinking water of 116,000 Oregonians. There’s a huge amount of dredging in Coos Bay,” said Sam Krop, a Eugene, Ore.-based organizer with Cascadia Wildlands. “Tribes have come out against the project because sacred places and burial grounds would be impacted. Coos Bay is an incredible fishing and clamming community. It would be devastating for local fishermen.”
More than half the Pacific Connector’s alignment, or 157 miles, crosses private land, affecting 704 property owners who may face eminent domain proceedings if they don’t accept Pembina’s cash offer for a right of way, according to No LNG Exports’ website.
The gas the pipeline moves would be cooled to 260 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, converting it to liquid that takes up 1/600th the volume of gas at normal pressures.
The Pacific Connector could move up to 1.2 billion cubic feet a day, or 438 billion a year. By comparison, Utah’s natural gas production peaked at nearly around 500 billion cubic feet in 2012 and has steadily dropped to about 300 billion last year, according to Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel whose emissions when burned are blamed for rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, in turn altering the global climate. But it is regarded as relatively clean compared with liquid oil and solid coal as long as it is burned properly. Methane, the principal ingredient in natural gas, is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Backers contend Western gas can help reduce Asian expanding economies’ reliance on dirtier fuels, but only if it can get shipped across the Pacific.
“The root of the issue for Utah, Colorado and Wyoming is the ability of their gas production to access markets from the West Coast,” said Jordan Clark, managing director of energy and mineral development for the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development. In the Uinta Basin oil fields, “there is a lot of associated natural gas that has to find a home on top of the tremendous gas reserves that are going to come on line.”
Only about half the 42-inch-diameter Ruby pipeline’s capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet a day is being used to move gas, according to Clark, who made his remarks during a news conference organized by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a consortium of businesses, farmers and manufacturers promoting domestic energy production. That means there is plenty of room to ship Utah gas to the proposed Jordan Cove project.
Clark is convinced that gas exports enabled by the project would lead to far more gas production and investment in the Uinta Basin.
"We're looking at the job creation. It is going to increase employment and wages. That helps our community and other industries and services, not just for Uintah County, but the region. It's a game changer for us," said Sylvia Wilkins, Uintah County's economic development director. "The decrease in prices has slowed our economy. Accessing new markets always helps."
The Ute Tribe, which actively develops oil and gas on its reservation in the Uinta Basin, supports the project.
“It will promote responsible environmental stewardship by producing cleaner-burning natural gas to be sold to countries across Asia that now use much dirtier fuels,” the Ute Tribal Business Committee said in a statement. “At home, the project will advance tribal self-determination and boost economic development not only for our tribe but for every community involved in the project.”