From: California Progress Report
Anyone on the road in PG&E’s service area recently has likely seen big, blue billboards trumpeting the virtues of renewable, implying PG&E is committed to clean energy. What the ad campaign doesn’t display are pictures of murdered indigenous protesters in Peru, destroyed forest and river habitat in Oregon, and the impacts of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Yet these are the things that PG&E will be investing in if they are successful in building the Pacific Connector pipeline in Southern Oregon. While PG&E’s campaign shows that it works with Habitat for Humanity, it’s not advertising the angry letters they’re receiving from organizations like Sierra Club California, The Utility Reform Network, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, or the resolution unanimously passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors against PG&E’s involvement in this project.
The Pacific Connector is a 230-mile natural gas pipeline that is primarily designed to pump foreign-sourced natural gas into Northern California. PG&E, along with Williams Pipeline, is a partner in the proposed project. It would begin at a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon and end at the California border near Klamath Falls. Much of the natural gas will be burned in power plants to generate electricity for PG&E customers. Throughout its length, it will traverse through rugged and beautiful areas of Southern Oregon, felling a swath of forest as wide as an 8-lane freeway. The pipeline will require the permanent destruction of avian habitat for the spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and will cross dozens of rivers and streams where the Oregon Coast coho salmon are hanging on for survival. In total, 2,000 acres will need to be leveled to make way for the pipeline.
LNG is a technology which super-cools natural gas to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it becomes a liquid. In this form, it is loaded onto a giant tanker and, much like oil, shipped from a gas producing region to a gas consuming region like California. Unlike oil, however, North America has plenty of its own natural gas. And with laws like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, California should be dramatically reducing its natural gas usage. The Pacific Connector was first proposed in 2006, during the heyday of hype for LNG projects nationwide. Now, there is a strong consensus among government energy agencies, investment analysts, and publications like the Wall Street Journal that LNG isn’t needed in the U.S., and is not worth the investment or risk when North America is home to plenty of its own natural gas supplies.
The folly of LNG is most apparent in Louisiana, where a brand new LNG terminal that recently went on-line imported enough of the fuel to fill its tank, and then found it was too expensive to compete with domestically produced natural gas. The company responsible, Cheniere, is now cutting their losses by re-exporting to foreign markets the same LNG they just imported. Meanwhile, the one LNG terminal that opened on the West Coast, Sempra’s brand new Costa Azul terminal on Mexico’s Baja coast, is largely sitting idle. Despite this, PG&E persists in its pipeline plans.
LNG must travel thousands of miles before it lands anywhere on the West Coast. While no contracts have been signed, PG&E has announced that its LNG could possibly come from Peru, Russia, Qatar, or Indonesia. Relying on these sources for natural gas and electricity contributes to human rights and environmental problems, and jeopardizes the reliability of the grid. For instance, recent protests in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest led to the slaying of dozens of indigenous people by police. The protests were over Peru’s natural resource export policy, and how it is causing destruction in the rainforest. The protesters were attempting to shut down the Camisea natural gas pipeline, which is designed for LNG export. If PG&E should buy LNG from Peru, it will not only be contributing to these human rights and environmental problems, but putting the California grid at risk of interruptions in electricity and natural gas supplies should future protests successfully cut the flow of gas. If California imports from Russia’s Sakhalin Island, another likely source, PG&E customers will be dependent on the Russian Government, which has made shutting off Europe’s natural gas supply in the coldest days of winter a disruptive annual ritual.
In addition, the LNG import terminal in Coos Bay poses a dire safety threat to local residents. LNG is highly volatile, and if LNG leaks and vaporizes, it can easily ignite. An LNG-produced vapor cloud from a tanker spill of 3 million gallons could travel up to 3 miles. Ships coming into Coos Bay will carry up to 39 million gallons of LNG. If these vapors ignite, the fire that could occur would incinerate everything in its path. Within a 3 mile radius of the terminal site are about 17,000 residents and their homes, schools, businesses and churches.
And lastly, this project will dramatically increase PG&E’s greenhouse gas emissions. It takes a lot of energy to get LNG from one continent to the other, in super-cooling the natural gas in its source country, shipping it overseas, and then re-gasifying it at the import terminal. In total, the extra emissions associated with the lifecycle of LNG add about 15 to 25 percent over that of North American natural gas, and make it comparable to coal power. In total, this could result in a total increase of about 1.5 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, in addition to what PG&E is already emitting. Contrast this to PG&E’s “Climate Smart” program, which over 3 years has offset a meager 257,000 tons of emissions. In addition, the hundreds of millions that PG&E will spend on this pipeline is money that could be spent on pollution-free renewable energy and efficiency programs.
The Jordan Cove LNG project faces wide opposition from Oregon residents as well as the state’s political establishment. Governor Ted Kulongoski has raised concerns about the project, while former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury has said that LNG is a “giant step in the wrong direction.” Both of Oregon’s U.S. Senators and the Attorney General either oppose or have voiced concern over the project. This project has exacerbated the age-old mistrust of Californians, as many Oregonians view this as another example of the “Californication” of Oregon.
But all of this opposition might not be enough, because the federal government, in particular the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), has the final permitting authority over this project. FERC’s position on LNG is to permit all projects, and let “the market” decide which ones get built. The problem in this is that unlike apples or televisions, for the overwhelming majority of us, there is no “market” for electricity. As PG&E ratepayers, we don’t get to choose where our power comes from, or how much we pay for it. PG&E does have that choice, and they have the power to stop the bad idea called the Pacific Connector before it starts.