Local tussles continued into the new year with the ongoing comments and reactions to a draft environmental review of NorthernStar Natural Gas's proposed Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal along the Columbia River in Oregon. Local county and FERC officials traded comments over the holiday period focusing on some third parties that are part of the debate, and FERC said late in December it was concerned about a potential conflict of interest by an environmental contractor that is working on both Bradwood and a related interstate gas pipeline project.

Then, as expected, opponents of another proposed LNG receiving terminal at Coos Bay, OR, appealed recent local permits for the facility along the state's south-central coast to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The appeal was made Dec. 26, 2007, three weeks after the Coos Bay Board of Commissioners approved an application from the Jordan Cove Energy Project.

In the meantime, the comment period for the Bradwood project closed two days earlier (Dec. 24) on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) draft environmental impact statement (EIS), and that caused some eleventh-hour action by the Clatsop County Commission.

And in addition to the EIS process stirring up various environmental concerns, a local guest opinion column by an engineer with past LNG experience appeared last month in a suburban Portland newspaper raising various safety concerns and questions about whether Oregon should be pursuing LNG imports at a time when "renewables are finally getting some traction and investment."

"The 'new jobs' arguments of LNG proponents are very shortsighted," wrote Don Hennig, a professional engineer who in 1973 helped review and evaluate environmental and public safety issues associated with a proposed LNG terminal on Staten Island, NY, for the state regulatory commission. "The people and economies and environments of Oregon and southwest Washington would be much better served by encouraging further development of renewable energy sources."

Having been diverted by post-storm recovery efforts earlier in December, Clatsop County officials were unable to submit their own comments on the draft EIS, but they decided to piggyback on the work of an intergovernmental organization, the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST), that submitted comments on the draft FERC document. In turn, NorthernStar had complained about some of the parts of the CREST submittal.

On Dec. 20 NorthernStar's Senior Vice President Joe Desmond wrote the Clatsop County Manager Scott Derickson to clarify some of the parts of the CREST work that the company found troubling. Desmond cited "significant errors" in the CREST study. "Numerous statements are factually inaccurate, speculative, or inconsistent with the county's own findings," Desmond said in his letter.

Nevertheless, the county decided to submit the CREST work to FERC with the caveat in a cover letter from its general counsel saying the document did not represent the views of the county officials.

The FERC staff conflict-of-interest concerns were raised in a letter in mid-December last year to Minneapolis-based Natural Resource Group (NRG), which is the environmental consultant for both the proposed Bradwood Landing LNG facility and the Palomar Gas Transmission pipeline project that would provide service to the LNG terminal if it is built.

"The FERC staff is concerned that NRG's work for Palomar Gas Transmission LLC on its pipeline project in Oregon, currently under our prefiling review..., creates the appearance of a conflict of interest due to the relationship between the Palomar pipeline and the Bradwood Landing LNG Project," wrote Richard R. Hoffmann, director of FERC's Division of Gas-Environment and Engineering.

On the state appeal of the coastal site, local officials and Jordan Cove Project Manager Bob Braddock told news media they were not surprised by the appeal. Braddock said his firm accelerated its local permitting requests to allow time for an expected appeal so the state panel can finish its review before an expected decision from FERC.

Jordan Cove expects that in mid-January it will get indications from the FERC on the project's environmental review schedule for 2008. Coos County Commissioners on Dec. 19 unanimously approved the conditions associated with the port permit for the tanker slip at Jordan Cove, a project being bankrolled by a private equity group and Alberta-based Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP.

The appeal will require Coos County to supply the state land use board with its record for its land use decision by Jan. 16. Medford, OR, attorney David Lohman, from the Southern Oregon Pipeline Information Project Inc., filed the notice of appeal and has 21 days after the Coos County filing to file arguments against Jordan Cove. The county is technically the respondent in the case -- not the project backer.

Nevertheless, Jordan Cove is expected to carry out the legal defense for the application. Braddock told local news media Oregon's history is that local land use permitting decisions, even for small projects, are frequently appealed. "It is part of the natural process of going through a land use application," he said.

Noting that he thinks his project has "extremely strong findings" justifying the LNG facility and related pipeline, Braddock said he expects to finish the state appeals process before the FERC decision, which he expects late this year.

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