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Jordan Cove developers challenge route shift that FERC staff backed

Developers of the Jordan Cove LNG project and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline are pushing back against a pipeline route alternative that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff recommended in a recent environmental report.

The proposed route change would increase the number of private lands crossed, potentially adding to land acquisition needed for the project, which has faced a series of permitting challenges at the federal, state and local levels.

The Jordan Cove project entails an LNG terminal in Coos County, Ore., with design capacity of about 7.5 million tonnes per year in its first phase. Proposed alongside it is the 229-mile, 1.2-Bcf/d Pacific Connector natural gas pipeline. (FERC dockets CP17-494, 495)

The final environmental impact statement that FERC released Nov. 15 found most of the impact would not be significant or would be reduced to less-than-significant levels. It did, however, flag adverse effects on 18 federally listed or proposed threatened and endangered species, along with impact to housing in Coos Bay, noise impact, visual impact, and impact on airport operations.

Blue Ridge variation

Jordan Cove is now battling a recommendation in the environmental impact statement that favored the 15.2-mile Blue Ridge Variation route alternative. Despite other tradeoffs, FERC staff said this alternative would reduce the project's long-term impact on late-stage old growth forest, with implications for habitat of the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl. The variation would offer "significant environmental advantage," the review concluded.

"The proposed right-of-way would cross approximately 95 fewer acres of [late successional reserves] and remove 16.4 fewer acres of [northern spotted owl] nesting-roosting habitat and remove 10.4 fewer acres of overlapping [marbled murrelet] nesting habitat," FERC staff said.

The route shift would more than double the number of private parcels, from 21 to 47, and miles of private lands crossed, from 6.5 to 13.8, compared with the stretch it would replace. FERC acknowledged tradeoffs, including impacts to aquatic resources because of added water crossings, but it suggested these impacts were more likely to be temporary and mitigated.

The developers, in a Dec. 6 letter, called FERC staff's conclusion faulty, arguing that "no compelling scientific reason exists" to find that the route variation offers significant environmental advantages.

FERC failed to credit Pacific Connector's analysis of comparative impacts, and the environmental review is "factually wrong" when it claims developers have not proposed mitigation of long-term impacts and that there are "very minimal options for and avoidance of and minimization measures to address these upland resources," the companies said.

'Robust' mitigation

The applicants submitted "a robust comprehensive mitigation plan," promising to acquire and preserve private forest lands, and to take steps to enhance thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management and national forest lands. "The area of mitigation measures would far exceed the area of impacts and would provide a net benefit" to the murrelet and spotted owl, they wrote.

In their view, FERC failed to consider exceptions for construction of linear projects, such as pipelines in the BLM's 2016 Southwest Oregon Resource Management Plan, and failed to analyze population trends for the species.

It is unclear what impact the suggested route change would have on overall project timing because it takes so much longer to build an LNG terminal than it does a pipeline, said Gary Kruse of LawIQ.

Elsewhere in the environmental impact statement, the developers found fault with FERC's reliance on a state historic preservation office finding that a 25-square mile area is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. They argued the finding "lacks any support in the administrative record, and is clearly erroneous."