By Don McIntosh
The Jordan Cove project is dead, after eight years of fruitless efforts to get approval from state and federal regulatory agencies. On Dec. 1, the project’s sponsor, Pembina Pipeline Corporation, notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it’s withdrawing its application for approval.
Pembina and its predecessor, Veresen, had been pushing the project since 2013. The idea was to construct a 229-mile natural gas pipeline from Malin, Oregon, on the California border, over the Coast Range to the Port of Coos Bay. There, they’d construct a terminal where the gas would be super-cooled into a liquefied form, loaded onto ships and exported to Asia. The project would also include a new power plant to provide continuous power to the facility.
The effort to develop Jordan Cove began with Veresen Inc., a natural gas pipeline company based in Calgary, and continued after Pembina Pipeline, also based in Calgary, acquired Veresen in 2017. Backers said it would be the largest single construction project in Oregon history. Construction was to last 42 months and employ 900 construction workers on average and up to 2,000 workers at the project’s peak. Project costs would total $10 billion.
And it was all to have been built union, under project labor agreements signed by several union groups in 2013. The prospect of those jobs made Jordan Cove a political priority for building trades unions, and the project had the endorsement of the Oregon AFL-CIO and strong support from the Oregon Building Trades Council.
But it was not to be. From the beginning, Jordan Cove and its pipeline were opposed by environmental groups, tribes, and some local landowners. Seeing that opposition, almost no state or federal elected leaders were publicly supportive of the project, and some were publicly opposed. U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley came out against it in December 2017, saying that project sponsors had dropped earlier assurances that the project wouldn’t use eminent domain against property owners who didn’t want the pipeline, and that the terminal would be powered by renewable energy. Merkley also opposed it on the grounds that that natural gas escaping from fracking fluids and gas pipelines would make it at least as carbon-polluting as coal.
Meanwhile, state and federal regulators found grounds to deny required permits. For the project to move forward it would need approvals from FERC, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Department of State Lands, and the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council. FERC rejected Jordan Cove’s application to build the pipeline and terminal in 2016. Jordan Cove appealed that rejection. Then in March 2020, FERC commissioners appointed by Donald Trump approved the project 2-1, and gave it the right to use eminent domain—so long as Jordan Cove obtained required permits from the state. But DEQ denied a water quality permit, which it would need for a pipeline that was expected to cross hundreds of rivers, streams and wetlands. Pembina asked FERC to overrule DEQ, but it declined.
“It’s really disappointing to see that we couldn’t get approval for a project that would have created thousands of good jobs for the Southwest Coast and the region,” said Oregon State Building Trades Council executive secretary Robert Camarillo. “Unlike some other developers, this was a developer that was willing to use local skilled workers.”
Jordan Cove is the latest of a series of proposed Pacific Northwest fossil fuel infrastructure projects in which developers promised to use union labor, and got union political and community support, but were unable to get regulatory approval to build. Previously scrapped projects include:
- Vancouver, 2014-2018 Vancouver Energy, a joint venture by Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company and Savage Companies proposed to invest $210 million to build what would be the largest oil terminal in America at the Port of Vancouver, and then to transport 131 million barrels of crude oil per year by train from the Bakken Shale oil fields of North Dakota and Montana through the Columbia Gorge. But the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council denied Tesoro necessary permits to build the facility, and the Port of Vancouver canceled the project’s lease after voters elected a Port commissioner who opposed the terminal.
- Longview, 2012-2017 Millennium Bulk Terminals LLC, a joint venture by Ambre Energy and Arch Coal proposed to invest $680 million to construct a coal export facility in Longview, Washington, on the site of a Reynolds Aluminum smelter that closed in 2000. But the Washington Department of Ecology denied a necessary water quality permit. In 2020 Wyoming and Montana tried to sue Washington state, but in June 2021 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their lawsuit.
- Portland, 2014-2016 Pembina Pipeline Corp. proposed to invest $500 million to build a propane export facility at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, drawing on liquid propane transported by train from Canada for shipment to Asia. It would have been the largest single private capital investment in the city’s history. But the company needed a zoning amendment in order to construct a pipe, and then-mayor Charlie Hales refused to schedule a hearing on that. Portland City Council later passed a resolution barring construction of any additional fossil fuel infrastructure in Portland.
- Morrow, 2012-2016 Coyote Island Terminal LLC, a subsidiary of Australia-based Ambre Energy, proposed to invest $242 million to build a dock at the Port of Morrow near Boardman. The dock would allow it to bring 8.8 million tons of coal per year by train from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana and load it onto covered barges to ship it down the Columbia River to Port Westward, where it would be transferred onto ships bound for Asia. But the company needed a permit to place 572 cubic yards of fill in order to place pilings needed to support the dock. The Oregon Department of State Lands denied the permit, saying the company hadn’t done enough to analyze alternatives that would avoid harming tribal fisheries. The company, the Port of Morrow, and the State of Wyoming challenged the denial but lost in court.
- St. Helens, 2012-2013 Houston based energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan proposed to invest $200 million in a coal export terminal at Port Westward Industrial Park at the Port of St. Helens, and then bring 15 million tons of coal a year by rail from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana for export to Asia. But PGE decided not to sublease its port acreage to Kinder Morgan out of concern that coal dust would affect the operation of two nearby natural gas plants, and backers were unable to find another parcel at the Port.