Federal regulators on March 18 gave their consent to the controversial Jordan Cove LNG terminal and accompanying Pacific Connector Pipeline.

In a 2-1 vote, FERC gave its approval to the $10 billion project, despite it lacking several key State of Oregon permits, and over objections from the state government and environmental groups that have opposed the proposed project since it was first introduced over 15 years ago.

FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said it was now up to project developer Pembina Co. to secure all necessary state permits.

"This certificate does include a provision which requires Jordan Cove to file documentation that it has received all applicable authorizations for the LNG facility before construction begins," Chatterjee said during a press conference following the vote.

The vote was a call to arms for the State of Oregon, environmental groups and local tribes.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement that she "will not stand for any attempt to ignore Oregon's authority to protect public safety, health and environment."

She continued, "I have asked the state's lawyers to consider all appropriate legal action to assure that Oregon permitting processes will be followed. And let me be clear to the concerned citizens of Southwest Oregon: until this project has received every single required permit from state and local agencies, I will use every available tool to prevent the company from taking early action on condemning private property or clearing land."

The Jordan Cove LNG terminal, planned for Coos Bay, Ore., and its accompanying 229-mile pipeline represent the 12th LNG export terminal FERC has approved since Chatterjee became chair, and the first West Coast export terminal to be certified by the commission.

Commissioner Richard Glick, the lone Democratic FERC commissioner, cast the dissenting vote, saying "the decision plainly violates the requirement of the Natural Gas Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in order to achieve an outcome-oriented desire to approve the projects."

Glick said the order also failed to consider the impacts the project's greenhouse gas emissions will have on climate change, "which is the norm these days." He lamented that "it would also significantly impact 20 threatened and endangered species, historic properties, short-term housing, and noise levels in the vicinity of the projects."

The Jordan Cove LNG Terminal and Pacific Connector Pipeline would emit about 2.14 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent annually, FERC said in its order. The project's emissions would impact the state's ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, as the annual emissions would represent 4.2 percent and 15.3 percent of Oregon's 2020 and 2050 GHG goals, respectively, FERC said.

"Because we are unaware of any measures that Oregon has established to reduce GHGs directly emitted by natural gas or LNG facilities, we will not require the applicants to mitigate the impact on Oregon's ability to meet its GHG emission goals," the order said.

Commissioner Bernard McNamee—who held up voting on the LNG project at the February FERC meeting (CU No. 1841 [12])—said the commission has "no authority to deny" an application based on environmental effects from upstream gas production.

"Congress enacted the [National Gas Act], and subsequent legislation, to ensure the Commission provided public access to natural gas," he wrote in support of the order. "Further, Congress designed the NGA to preserve States' authority to regulate the physical effects from upstream gas production, and did not leave that field unregulated. Congress simply did not authorize the Commission to judge whether upstream production will be too environmentally harmful."

Glick said that FERC also cannot ignore changes in the global LNG landscape, and "must evaluate whether the proposed LNG projects we are reviewing are actually going to be built."

"By issuing a Certificate for the pipeline needed to serve the LNG facility, the Commission is giving the developer the ability to immediately begin the process to take land via eminent domain when the future of the Jordan Cove LNG project—and perhaps other proposed LNG projects—remain very much in doubt. The Commission should consider these factors in its determination that the associated pipeline is actually needed," he said.

State environmental groups and local tribes impacted by the terminal and pipeline condemned the FERC vote, and indicated they will seek a rehearing.

"Pembina has been unable to secure any of the necessary state permits to build in Oregon because there's no getting around the fact that this project would pose an unacceptable threat to Oregon's communities and waterways and is clearly not in the public interest," Sierra Club Senior Attorney Nathan Matthews said in a prepared statement. "It's disappointing that FERC failed to recognize this, and we plan to seek a rehearing on this misguided decision."

The vote came nearly one month after the commission unexpectedly delayed a scheduled vote on the project, after the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development denied the project's coastal zone permit (CU No. 1941 [12]).

The ODLCD released its analysis the evening before FERC was scheduled to release its final order on the project.

ODLCD's analysis found "the project will negatively impact Oregon's coastal scenic and aesthetic resources, a variety of endangered and threatened species, critical habitat and ecosystem services" including fisheries, boating and commercial shipping.

The Jordan Cove LNG terminal would be capable of liquefying up to 1.04 Bcf per day for export, and would include a pipeline-gas conditioning facility, five liquefaction trains and two full-containment LNG storage tanks. The LNG terminal would handle about 120 LNG carriers per year.

The accompanying 229-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline would cross Klamath, Jackson, Douglas and Coos counties in Oregon, and deliver 1,200,000 dekatherms per day of gas to the terminal.

The LNG terminal and pipeline project is considered the largest private construction project in Oregon's history, and would increase economic output in Oregon and Washington by $1.17 billion over the four year construction phase, according the Jordan Cove's filing with FERC.

The project would employ 1,768 workers a year and create 1,530 indirect and 1,838 "induced" jobs during construction.

The project has long been opposed by environmental groups, local tribes and the State of Oregon, but earlier this month, the Coos Bay City Council approved the project's last local land-use permit, giving the project approval from all 14 local jurisdictions affected by the project.

Pembina says it has signed voluntary easement agreements with 82 percent of private landowners in the pipeline's path.

The developer recently withdrew its permit request from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for a water certification permit

Editor - Clearing Up

Steve began covering energy policy and resource development in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. He’s been editor of Clearing Up since 2003, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resource and University of Texas.