Last week, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that it was denying water quality certification for the Jordan Cove Energy Project. The project, which consists of a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and associated 229-mile pipeline, must receive this certification under the Clean Water Act to proceed. In a letter announcing its decision, the DEQ said “there is insufficient information to demonstrate compliance with water quality standards” and “the available information shows that some standards are more likely than not to be violated.”
The proposed pipeline route, which cuts through private and public land in four counties in southwest Oregon, would impact rivers, streams, and wetlands at 485 different locations. It would also cross under the Coos Bay estuary twice before terminating at the Jordan Cove LNG facility.
The DEQ called out several specific concerns related to the project, citing the “expected effects” of construction and operation activities on water temperature and sediment in streams and wetlands and the possible release of drilling materials into the Coos Bay estuary.
Social media lit up with news of the decision. “DEQ’s denial comes with 200 pages of ways Jordan Cove LNG does not comply with Oregon’s water quality standards,” proclaimed the NO LNG Exports Facebook page. “We know they can’t build this project and comply with Oregon’s water laws.”
Rogue Climate, a regional non-profit that has been effectively organizing against the Jordan Cove, sent out a press release studded with quotes from leading opponents.
“Today’s denial is great news for our Klamath Tribal members and other Oregon citizens that have been concerned about protecting fisheries and Oregon’s waters,” said Chairman Don Gentry of the Klamath Tribes. “The Klamath Tribes are very encouraged that the state of Oregon is making this move to protect clean water, cultural resources, and our traditional territory.”
But even as climate activists, tribal members, landowners, and other citizens celebrate the decision, past experience has taught them to be wary. In the famous words of Monty Python, Jordan Cove is “not quite dead yet.”
The state agency made its decision “without prejudice,” which means the company can submit a new application or new information which addresses inadequacies. Considering the amount of money Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corporation has already invested in the project, it seems unlikely that they will simply walk away. The company said in a statement that it is working to “better understand” the decision and its impacts. Meanwhile, the flow of television ads promoting Jordan Cove as an environmentally benign creator of jobs continues unabated.
Interestingly, just days before the DEQ announcement, Pembina announced that it was delaying the project by one year and pulling back funding on activities not related to permitting. The company also has yet to secured so-called “binding offtake agreements” — legally binding agreements between buyer and seller — for the LNG.
The timing of the DEQ decision came as something of a surprise — technically, the agency had until September 24 to make its decision. The Army Corps of Engineers extended the deadline after Pembina withdrew and resubmitted its application last September. Agencies in several states have been encouraging companies to “withdraw and resubmit” in order to extend permitting deadlines and give the agencies more time to decide. However, recent court decisions suggest that agencies employing this strategy may waive the right to grant or deny water quality certification for related projects. To be on the safe side, Oregon DEQ stuck to the original May 7 deadline.
Another state agency recently made an announcement related to the Jordan Cove project as well. The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL), which is jointly responsible with the Army Corps of Engineers for granting the project’s removal-fill permit — also required under the Clean Water Act — sent the company a nine-page letter in April requesting additional information. In its letter, the DLS listed specific concerns drawn from these the 49,000 to 57,000 public comments it had received regarding the project. The agency directed the company to respond to the “substantial comments” of several individuals. On May 9, Jordan Cove submitted a 1,600-page response.
The battle against the project isn’t over yet. Jordan Cove opponents are using the recent actions by Oregon state agencies to highlight the importance of public participation in the permitting process — and to put pressure on Oregon Governor Kate Brown to publicly oppose the project.
They are already urging people to pick up their pens again, even as they celebrate the DEQ decision — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the LNG terminal and pipeline, as required under federal law. Public hearings regarding FERC’s findings will be held in June in the four counties affected by the project, and the public comment period is open until July 5.
Still, one comment on the NO LNG Export’s Facebook post sums up the feelings of many Oregonians who have been battling this project for over a decade: “HOPE!!!”