Local activists and citizens met on Thursday, March 12 to discuss the Oregon LNG and Oregon Pipeline projects.
The meeting was organized and moderated by Steve Calhoun, along with his son Michael, to raise awareness within the community about the projects and included several guest speakers. The discussion focused on ways to organize and oppose the projects and on making sure locals understand that they have a voice in whether they are constructed or not.
The Oregon LNG and Oregon Pipeline projects propose to transport fracked natural gas from Canada across Washington and Oregon in a high pressure, thirty-six inch pipeline, to a terminal in Warrenton, OR where it would be converted to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and exported to overseas markets. The pipeline travels across Columbia County through mostly private timberland and crosses Rock Creek about five miles above the intake to the City of Vernonia’s water plant.
Some of the most pertinent concerns about the projects include water quality degradation and damage to critical salmon habitat, and public safety and the risk to residents in the event of an accident.
Among the guest speakers was Dan Serres, Conservation Director at Columbia Riverkeeper, who has been opposing LNG projects in Oregon for ten years. Serres provided an overview of what he called “one of the most controversial projects in all of Oregon,” and told the audience that the one way to stop the projects was to stop the terminal in Warrenton. “Without the terminal there is no pipeline,” said Serres. He also pointed out that both State and Federal regulatory agencies need to approve the projects before it can move forward. Serres explained that FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) will say yes to this so it is important for local citizens to be heard by state agencies and legislators. Serres encouraged locals to organize together to oppose the project.
Maggie Peyton, Executive Director of the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council (UNWC), told the audience that her organization has been working to restore salmon habitat in the region for twenty-six years and that she sees no real benefit for the local population from the projects. In addition to her concerns about water quality in the rivers, streams and wetlands the pipeline would cross and its impact on local salmon populations, Peyton also expressed reservations about the continued dependence on fossil fuels, the ability of local emergency responders to handle accidents or natural disasters, and the effects on water quality from deforestation in the region. She said she is also highly concerned about the potential damage from a predicted large subduction zone earthquake.
One of the most interesting guest speakers of the evening was Paul Sansone from Gales Creek, OR. Sansone, a long time outspoken opponent of the projects, is part of Oregon Citizens Against the Pipeline, a group that has previously organized and successfully stopped the pipeline from traveling through Washington County and the Willamette Valley. Sansone told the audience that after communities and activists organized and defeated the pipeline project, the owners of the project changed the route of the pipeline to travel across Columbia County. “You need to know who you are dealing with,” said Sansone. Sansone passionately described in detail the history of the fight against the large corporations that have tried to force the project on local citizens. He told the audience that at one hearing over 200 landowners testified about the use by project proponents and employees of illegal tactics that included lying in public meetings, intimidation, and trespassing. Sansone explained that, since the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, FERC does not have to prove “need” for projects like this and that they react to market forces. “FERC is on the side of industry,” said Sansone. He also expressed that because of the huge potential for corporate profits, these projects just don’t seem to go away, even after they are denied. He also raised questions about the benefits to the local tax base from the project and the lack of an Emergency Management Plan. Sansone said the use of a diverse coalition of citizens and organization has successfully blocked the project so far using the expertise of the lawyers and skills of the community organizers from Columbia Riverkeeper. “We’ve stopped two terminals and three pipelines,” said Sansone. “You can do it too.”
Steve Calhoun talked about his personal decision to move to Vernonia and the difficulty residents have in finding good water from wells or getting river rights to pump water. He said Rock Creek is a good source of high quality water and that local citizens should not take their access to water for granted but instead protect it. Calhoun also suggested that local citizens unify and approach local government leaders, including the Vernonia City Council, to express their concerns. Michael Calhoun agreed and encouraged citizens to “collectively use our voices,” to oppose the project.
Rick Davis, a local resident and third generation oil industry employee who has vast experience with pipelines, expressed grave concerns about the safety of pipelines in general and a lack of accountability by the industries that rely on them. Davis provided detailed descriptions of abuses by the oil and gas industries and the realistic danger posed by a pipeline through this mostly forested region. Davis expressed anxiety about the level of safety inspections this project would be allowed to operate under and the increasing number of accidents the industry is experiencing.
Local resident Diana Peach told the audience about a twenty page comment to DEQ she felt compelled to write following the initial informational meeting hosted by DEQ in Vernonia in January. Peach explained that, although she is not an expert on the issue, she is very concerned about how seriously the government is taking their responsibility to protect the state’s environment and their citizens. Peach said she had sent her comments to most local legislators and had received phone calls from State Senator Betsy Johnson and a staff member from US Senator Ron Wyden’s office.
Marilyn Tatman is an adjacent landowner to the proposed pipeline on Rock Creek, who has been opposed to the project from the beginning. Tatman said she is concerned about environmental and water quality and access to water by the community in the event of an accident. She said she believes the corporation trying to get the permits to build the project doesn’t care about the local citizens. Tatman questioned the supposed benefits, like an increased tax base, from the projects. She explained that the pipeline is different from the natural gas pipeline in the nearby Mist-Birkenfeld area. She said she has had several bad experiences with representatives from the project. She also asked why local officials, including County Commissioners, have not been attending local meetings about the project.
Although no plans were announced for opponents of the project to meet again, there appeared to be considerable energy and commitment to continue to work to organize and inform the community about the project.