Let us count the ways this Oregon pipeline project has gone off the rails

Aerial shot of Coos Bay, Oregon, future potential home of the Jordan Cove fracking facility (Photo credit: RBrittsan)
Aerial shot of Coos Bay, Oregon, future potential home of the Jordan Cove fracking facility (Photo credit: RBrittsan)

A proposed natural-gas pipeline terminal on the Oregon coast has everything going for it: A partnership with a Canadian energy corporation, backing from local-government officials and the support of the Trump administration. 

So why can’t the Jordan Cove project on Coos Bay, which has been in the works since 2007, get construction approval? 

One reason is all the local opposition — from townspeople, from Native American tribes, and also from key county and state government agencies. 

And then there’s the messy and embarrassing series of email dumps that have revealed a very cozy relationship between a few local officials, the local sheriff’s office, and the company behind the project — the Pembina Pipeline Corporation. 

Big money, big plans

Pembina’s plans for a 229-mile, $10 billion pipeline would deliver liquid natural gas from Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to markets in Asia.

It would be one of the largest natural-gas pipeline terminals in the United States, and a boon to the American fossil-fuel industry. 

One of the final hurdles for the project is approval by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which came on January 10. 

NOAA determined that the 17 species potentially affected by the project — all protected by the Endangered Species Act, including sea turtles and salmon — would not be unduly harmed.

Yet in mid-February, the Oregon state Land Conservation and Development Commission denied Pembina’s permit to build the plant. 

In doing so the agency sharply disputed NOAA’s assessment, stating that the project would have “significant adverse effects on the state’s coastal scenic and aesthetic resources, endangered species, critical habitat, fisheries and commercial shipping.”

The following day, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission postponed its own ruling on the viability of the project. 

Protest surveillance, and disruption

From the start, the Jordan Cove project has attracted fierce opposition. 

Thousands of environmentalists, Native American tribal members, landowners who would have their lands seized under eminent domain, and many others have formed a formidable protest movement aimed at blocking the project.

In response, the Coos County sheriff’s office has spent years tracking protestors, and even formed a special “combined services unit” that was financed solely by Pembina itself at a cost of $2 million. 

Pembina also funded a $26,000, two-day conference thrown by the National Sheriffs’ Association in November 2018 on how to “wage propaganda battles against protestors,” according to The Intercept.  

This includes hiring two agents formerly associated with the defense contractor TigerSwan, Robert Rice and Nate Johnson, who previously used propaganda and social-media messages to disrupt pipeline protests in Standing Rock, opposing the Dakota Access pipeline, and the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania.

Emails tell all

Rice, Johnson and their peers, sometimes in cahoots with local law enforcement, mounted Facebook campaigns to discredit activists, and sowed fear and hatred among local residents undecided about the effects of the pipelines.

Elise Gerhart, who organized protests in Pennsylvania against the Mariner East 2 pipeline, told The Intercept that Rice and Johnson produced “dangerous online hit pieces” that “targeted” her and her family. 

In Oregon, according to a cache of emails obtained through public-records requests by DeSmog Blog, Pembina may have also broken rules in influencing Coos County officials, who have been supportive of the project and Pembina’s efforts to promote it. 

However, not all Oregon county governments are onboard, as the emails reveal. 

Indeed, Oregon state agencies have repeatedly overruled federal and local regulators to stymie the project’s progress. 

The only way that this can be reversed is if a Trump administration proposal to fast-track pipeline approval — and overrule the state in the process — becomes law.

Sources: The Intercept, The Columbian (Oregon), DeSmog Blog (environmental blog), Portland Business Journal, The Guardian, The Oregonian

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