Editorial: Surprise, surprise
Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:00 am
Boondoggle is an apt label for many big energy projects. Think Enron. Think Washington Public Power Supply System and its ambitious nuclear reactor building program. And now, think liquefied natural gas terminals.
Remember when Northern Star LLC hustled Clatsop County to gain land-use approval for an LNG import terminal at Bradwood. Skeptics of that plan doubted there was sufficient demand for imported natural gas. Northern Star insisted the facility was for natural gas import, not export.
Surprise, surprise. Now the energy world is buzzing with talk of natural gas exports. The proposed Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay plans to submit an application for a natural gas export permit from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The fatal shortcoming of the LNG terminal siting process is lack of a national perspective. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has allowed the LNG licensing process to be only about who gets there first. It is a speculator’s dream. Thus we had big Texas money dropped on Clatsop County for a terminal that really wasn’t needed.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s response to the Jordan Cove request is: “I think it’s premature to conclude that the United States now has so much natural gas that it can afford to export it overseas. With Jordan Cove’s application, LNG terminals in the U.S. are already proposing to export more than 10 percent of the amount of natural gas that American businesses and consumers use every day. I think there ought to be a time-out on approving LNG exports until there is a better understanding of how much natural gas there is, whether it can be safely extracted, and what the impact on the U.S. economy would be from LNG exports.”
To rebalance the LNG siting process, Sen. Wyden has proposed legislation to give the states a larger role. That would have made a difference in the game that Bradwood played.
Clatsop County still has an active LNG terminal prospect in the project proposed by Oregon LNG, successor to Calpine. Does anyone believe that would be built for natural gas imports?
Oregon and many Oregonians would be better off if Enron never had purchased Portland General Electric. This newspaper published seven editorials spanning 1996-97 urging the Oregon Public Utility Commission not to approve the sale. Enron’s decline and fall became a national story.
The drive to export natural gas is already a national story, because allowing those exports would increase the price for domestic natural gas, to the detriment of business and residential customers.
Sen. Wyden is absolutely right on the need for a “time-out” on export licensing for Jordan Cove. And Wyden’s LNG siting legislation de-serves the support of every candidate in the special congressional election to fill the vacancy left by David Wu.
Prospects look dimmer for LNG terminal
A liquefied natural gas terminal on Coos Bay looks less likely, after last week's announcement that developers would focus on exports rather than imports. What's more, some local residents who supported an import terminal may lack the stomach for an export facility.
Until recently, developers of the Jordan Cove Energy Project have pooh-poohed the idea of exporting gas. Now that underground hydraulic fracturing is unleashing cheap Rocky Mountain gas, Jordan Cove is eating those words.
Whatever direction the gas flows, a terminal would bring economic benefit to the Bay Area. Legally and politically, however, an export terminal is far different from an import facility.
Connecting Coos Bay to all that Wyoming gas requires stretching the Pacific Connector Pipeline across many miles of private property. That task probably would require the condemnation authority of eminent domain. Acquiring that authority may be a challenge.
Using eminent domain for a private project requires developers to prove the project serves 'public convenience and necessity." Importing energy meets those criteria. But how does the American public benefit from shipping U.S. gas overseas?
Developers can argue that exports create jobs -- potentially dozens in the Bay Area. They may even argue that broadening the market for U.S. natural gas will create an incentive for drilling. But it's a weak case, especially if exporting gas raises prices for American consumers.
The idea of condemning private land for an export pipeline will make Jordan Cove even more controversial than it already is. Conservatives and liberals find common ground in defending the rights of property owners against profit-seeking developers.
The Jordan Cove developers consistently have emphasized the long-term nature of their strategy. In the long term, markets change, and so do laws and politics. At the moment, though, Jordan Cove's future seems to be receding over the horizon.
Posted in Editorial on Monday, September 26, 2011 11:00 am | Tags: Liquefied Natural Gas, Lng, Coos Bay, Jordan Cove Energy, Eminent Domain
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