LNG Terminals: Wrong for Oregon and the Pacific Coast

By Linda Krop and Shiva Polefka. Linda Krop is Chief Counsel for the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), a non-profit public interest law firm in Santa Barbara, California. Shiva Polefka is EDC's Marine Conservation Analyst. EDC currently represents the California Coastal Protection Network in opposition to the Cabrillo Port proposal. Note: Linda Krop will be speaking Sunday, March 4 on a panel at the University of Oregon School of Law on legal strategies to fight LNG projects.

Back in the late 1970's, a corporate energy consortium lead by California's Pacific Gas and Electric proposed building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) importation terminal on undeveloped land sacred to the Chumash Indians near Point Conception, west of Santa Barbara, California. The project proposed to receive natural gas extracted from Indonesia, then, like all LNG, chilled to -260°F into its liquid form, and then tankered across the Pacific. Upon arrival in California this liquid was to be re-warmed (or "regasified") to its original state, before being piped to consumers and power plants. At the time, the project proponents assured the public that, despite the safety risks and environmental and cultural impacts involved, California consumers had no choice but to allow their project in order to avert a natural gas crisis and statewide economic ruination. As it turns out, we didn't need this imported gas and the project was withdrawn following enormous public opposition. Today, Southern California is better off environmentally and culturally for having rejected the dangerous and faulty Point Conception LNG proposal.

Unfortunately, West Coast residents - from Baja; to North Bend, Oregon; to British Columbia (pdf) - are now hearing the same hollow arguments again, as corporations and investment moguls line up to cash in on what they hope to be the next hydrocarbon rush. Furthest along in California's permitting process is Australian mining behemoth BHP Billiton, which wants to anchor an $800 million floating terminal to receive and process LNG for the next 40 or more years. BHP Billiton is once again trying to assure the public that need is dire for their fossil fuel, such that the profound impacts LNG will cause to Southern California's air and water quality, marine wildlife, public safety and the global climate should be ignored.

In Oregon, corporations like Portwestward, Northern Star, Fort Chicago and LNG Development Co. are echoing these arguments for their dangerous and destructive proposals in Coos Bay, Astoria, and along the Columbia River. According to these speculators, the West Coast supposedly needs foreign LNG to avert economic crisis, and that this "clean" fuel will serve as a "bridge" to a renewable energy future.

Before we buy into these recycled arguments and allow LNG to lock us in to further dependence on foreign fossil fuels, it's critical that we take a hard look at the environmental costs. Adding them up reveals a bad deal for Oregon, for California, and the rest of the West Coast...

More importantly, the vast size of individual LNG terminals, the extra processing required to transport the fuel from distant shores, and their multi-decade operating permits mean that each one represents a massive new long-term commitment to greenhouse gas emissions. Cabrillo Port alone, for example, could annually emit more than 5% (pdf) of California's 1990 statewide carbon output! As of January 2007, atmospheric carbon was measured at nearly 384 parts per million, 37% higher than the pre-industrial average (280ppm). At a time when it is more important than ever that we reduce, not expand, our contribution to global warming, allowing these huge terminals would be an irresponsible and dangerous step away from climate stability.

Fortunately, many opportunities exist to further reduce our demand for natural gas, and make our domestic supplies go further. Replacing outdated power plants with higher efficiency, combined-cycle facilities, reducing power consumption in our homes, businesses and towns through technological innovation, and revising our state and federal renewable energy policy to encourage aggressive construction of new wind, solar and biofuels facilities would reduce our gas demand and promote new high-tech businesses up and down the West Coast.

Let's choose to keep our energy spending dollars here at home, by choosing to invest in homegrown renewables. Let's choose a truly clean energy future, let's choose to keep the West Coast free of LNG.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Sorry but natural gas produces LESS pollutants by volume than petroleum based fuels, and using it to fuel vehicles is better than burning petroleum derived fuels.

    I find this article far from convincing on any of the objections raised.

  • urban planning overlord (unverified)
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    The authors make a very persuasive argument for rejection of an LNG terminal plant.

    I would suggest that all of the proposed locations for the LNG terminal facility be reviewed instead for location of new nuclear power plants.

    Nuclear power is non-fossil fuel. It is non-carbon. It reduces our dependence on foreign energy sources.

    Nuclear power plants have an environmental impact, but it is clearly lower than that of LNG terminals.

    Spent nuclear fuel is still a problem.

    And of course there are those who still think that a nuclear power plant will do a "Chernobyl," and obviously such plants must be protected against terrorist threats.

    Does the Environmental Defense Center, and these authors, support new nuclear power plants?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    The real question: Will Kulongoski veto LNG in Oregon? He has the power to do exactly that. Will he use that power? Since we're talking about Mr Casino-in-the-Gorge... probably not.

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    And of course there are those who still think that a nuclear power plant will do a "Chernobyl," and obviously such plants must be protected against terrorist threats.

    JK:Chernobyl type plants were closed in the USA at the close of WWII because we recognized their danger. Current plants are well protected and the next generation includes designs that are inherently safe, even without controls.

    Under the CO2 believer's scenario, our only choices are to revert our lifestyle to the early 1900's or go nuclear.

    Thanks JK

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    JK Under the CO2 believer's scenario, our only choices are to revert our lifestyle to the early 1900's or go nuclear.

    That's an incredibly naive and foolish view. Socolow argues that combinations of strategies could lead to a stabilization wedge. One of the wedges is indeed nuclear, but that could be substituted for other strategies:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~cmi/resources/wedgesumtb.htm

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    LNG plants impact the local economy in a very positive way. They create many family wage jobs. That translates to more tax revenue for Oregon. Why would Democrats oppose that?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Nuclear waste dumps in the Yucca mountains impact the local economy in a very positive way. They create many family wage jobs. That translates to more tax revenue for Oregon. Why would Nevada Republicans oppose that?

  • Bruce (unverified)
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    Natural gas from Canada is more expensive than LNG shipped to a terminal on the Columbia River. Lower priced fuel means lower cost of production which makes Oregon industry more competitive and more likely to build or expand facilities such as paper plants. What are the union workers who stand to benefit from LNG to take away from this NIMBY argument? We should remember that not all Progressive Democrats, particularly those from east of the Cascades or those who work in natural resource based industries, agree with every thing the Environmental Defense Center or the Sierra Club have to offer.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    One of the hallmarks of the Bush admin's decision-making is to increase local control and input.

    Sadly, when it comes to siting LNG plants such local control or input apparently doesn't apply. After all, in Astoria, the majority do not support Bradford Landing LNG.

    Here's a great article on LNG in Astoria.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Oh, and check this out all you property rightists:

    * The Port Westward project is about 35 miles east of Astoria and north of Clatskanie. New Mexico entrepreneur Spiro Vassilopoulos and New York investor Bob Ramage have been trying to buy land for a [LNG] terminal. But two landowners do not want to sell. Today, Sept. 28, the Port of St. Helens will discuss whether to seize the land under condemnation proceedings.

  • RuralD (unverified)
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    Linda Krop and Shiva Polefka should move to Coos Bay, try to find a decent job, and live life in the dank depression of a town that's been without a viable economy for nearly 20 years. Also, the federal dollars that have artificially propped up local government in Coos County (and 33 others) are about to be cut off now as well.
    If Coos Bay wants LNG, give them LNG. Well meaning enviros make some good points but with a convenient detachment from the reality of people in small communities.
    I'd invite the Environmental Defense Council to move their HQ to Coos Bay and see what life is like for real people, rather than from Santa Barbara.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    If Coos Bay wants LNG, give them LNG. Well meaning enviros make some good points but with a convenient detachment from the reality of people in small communities. I'd invite the Environmental Defense Council to move their HQ to Coos Bay and see what life is like for real people, rather than from Santa Barbara

    You're missing the point. Coos Bay, as with Astoria, has NO SAY in whether or not LNG is sited there. You might, for instance, wonder why, with the majority of Astorians opposed to LNG, it will still be sited there. It is because the Federal gov't is completely ignoring local concerns.

  • Matt Picio (unverified)
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    "Nuclear power is non-fossil fuel. It is non-carbon. It reduces our dependence on foreign energy sources."

    Where are you getting that information?

    According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, US domestic Uranium production only meets 10% of US demand. That means we're more dependent on Uranium imports than we are on fossil fuels. How will this situation be ameliorated by increasing our consumption of Uranium? (i.e. building more nuke plants)

    "Nuclear power plants have an environmental impact, but it is clearly lower than that of LNG terminals.

    Spent nuclear fuel is still a problem."

    Again, where are you getting your information? Spent nuclear fuel is minor. A very, very minor problem. All the spent nuclear fuel in the world could be housed in a single sports stadium. Sure, it's concentrated, and dangerous, but controllable. That's not the real danger. The real problem is mine tailings. Uranium is very uncommon in its natural state. We have to mine thousands of tons of rock to obtain a single ton of Uranium ore. The remaining ore (tailings) frequently contains heavy metals and various radioactive isotopes that are dangerous or poisonous in their own right. Uranium then undergoes a number of processing steps which also produce hazardous byproducts. Extraction of Uranium is far more damaging then extraction of natural gas.

    This issue will get more contentious and serious as time goes on. The number of wells required to keep NG production in the US and Canada stable is increasing exponentially. Eventually production is going to fall regardless of how many new wells are drilled. At that point, LNG will be the only way the US can get more natural gas. Either we use less, or import more.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    And one round from one of these and its goodbye.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    OK, let's all go back to heating our homes with firewood and driving steam engined cars. Of course that will require the decimation of our forests, but at least we won't have to depend on those scary, air polluting LNG terminals.

  • spicey (unverified)
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    Arguing that since the economy of Coos Bay is depressed so we should site something there seems ridiculous to me. If there's no way to get the economy there moving, then, perhaps people need to move away from that place, no? I'd rather see that then see something sited that could be an extreme detriment to the environment, peoples' health and peoples' lives (the 7-mile radius impact of an explosion). Also, seems that if there was an accident, it would make Coos Bay even more unlivable. I keep thinking back to the ship that grounded off the coast a couple of years ago due to bad weather, I think. What if something like that happened to one of these tankers? We need a whole lot more conservation and a lot less rock and roll (LNG)...

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    I love to fish and hunt ducks in some of the areas where LNG terminals are proposed along the Columbia and I would not want to see the River harmed. I have been listening carefully to the LNG debates, but so far the anti-LNG folks seem long on hysteria and short on facts. LNG is a major source of energy in Europe (over 22% of the French domestic gas market is from LNG) and growing very quickly in Asia. Canada has recently signed a huge agreement to import LNG from Gazprom, the Russian gas export company. LNG is going to happen, and it is going to happen in the Northwest.

    Given that LNG is inevitable, is there something specific about the Columbia River that causes these plants to be more objectionable in the River than elsewhere along the coast? Is there a better place to build them, based upon scientific evidence?

    It appears that these folks from CA oppose LNG anywhere in the world. In my opinion, that is not a productive position, but you can't argue with "true believers".

  • activist kaza (unverified)
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    It's good to see this issue finally discussed on BluOR - I can't recall it featured here before. It is a HUGE issue for those of us on the coast...pro or con.

    There's much follow-up that could be done. I'd like to see BluOR get a good commentary from a well-versed local like Peter Huhtala to speak to some of what's gone on from a Astoria/Clatsop County perspective. Kari, please work on that!

    Also, while I am sympathetic with Peter Bray's comments, I am not sure he's correct that Gov. K can "veto" LNG. As I understand it, the siting is entirely a Federal decision.

    This is something that ought to change - whether pro or con, I think we'd all agree that decisions like this shouldn't rest with Washington DC.

  • (Show?)

    Posted by: activist kaza | Mar 2, 2007 11:54:36 AM

    Fair questions, but same can be said and asked about any federal lands, and given that nearly half the state is Federal land, the same railing against what DC does with forrest land, or any other Federally held land is at the crux of other issues as well.

    Do you accept or reject that the Federal government should have or control any land in Oregon?

    It seems to be a very problematic question to come down on to proclaim that the Federal government should not own or control any land in Oregon. If you accept that the Federal government should own land in Oregon, then you have to also accept that the Federal government can decide what can be done wit that land. We Oregonians would still have some control over such decisions since we elect our Federal representation in DC, albeit that can often become rather diluted since our representation is at most 1/50th in the Senate and 5/435ths in the House, vs. more direct or stronger control with representation at the state and/or district level (and other various intermediate levels, such as county and and municipal or regional level such as Metro etc.).

  • (Show?)

    Posted by: BOHICA | Mar 2, 2007 8:33:01 AM

    So we should go back to firewood and not use natural gas at all since it is explosive?

    You do realize that most of California uses natural gas for household cooking, yes?

    Would you rather have buses burn cleaner natural gas or burn dirtier petroleum fuels?

    Both are explosive in stored tanks.

    So your position is we should outlaw propane fuel?

  • pedro (unverified)
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    from the willy week article:

    "Oregon may have another thing going: Its officials think they may still have the power to deny permits to LNG projects based on the federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Coastal Zone Management Act."

    read the whole thing, it's much more informative than this blog post.

    this is not an issue of either build the LNG, or return to the living standards of the 19th century. there a many options. if people want to talk jobs, these LNG facilites are projected to create 50-75 long term jobs. how many jobs do you suppose we could create if we had financial incentives to properly insulate homes to drastically reduce the demand for natural gas heat?

    natural gas for electricity is definitely much better than coal, but again, it's not either or. capacity is not an issue now or in the near future, we have much more capacity available through conservation alone. and not to mention that the increased economic viability of of solar in other regions (ie: california) that depend on natural gas for electricity means that in the next decade, demand for natural gas may decrease! add in 3 proposed (including one in development) wave energy plants on the coast, and increasing interest in geothermal and the whole "need" argument looks rather weak.

    i am not against LNG by default, but after doing some research, LNG in the columbia seems ill-advised, based soley on the disturbances to port operations caused by the security requirements of transporting LNG within national borders.

  • Dan Serres (unverified)
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    For all who are interested, this upcoming event will be a kep opportunity for Portland folks to learn more about LNG.

    The Case Against LNG:

    Speakers -

    Loretta Lynch, former PUC Chair for California under Gray Davis. She is a very vocal critic of LNG, and insists that it will emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases, is largely unneeded in Oregon (and will not replace coal, but rather will compete with wind energy in the West), and undermines the health and environment of upstream communities.

    Dmitry Lisitsyn, Board President for Sakhlin Environment Watch. He is travelling here from Russia to raise awareness about the severe impacts that LNG development is having on Sakhlain Island. He will illustrate how the upstream impacts of LNG render this a far from sustainable enterprise.

    It's going to be very interesting. Please join us.

    First Unitarian Church. SW 12th and Salmon. 7pm, Monday, March 5.

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Dan Serres, It's going to be very interesting. Please join us. JK: Who is presenting the other side? Or is this just a one-sided presentation?

    Thanks JK

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