ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Key vote on expanding gas pipeline in Oregon delayed after public, political pressure

A detail of the TC Energy map of the route of the Gas Transmission Northwest System shows a westbound spur passing through Klamath Falls and north of Ashland to a point just southeast of Medford.
July 30, 2023

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delayed a vote on the GTN Express pipeline following letters from environmentalists and Oregon senators

By Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Federal regulators delayed a key vote that would allow more natural gas to flow through Oregon, Idaho, Washington and to California following pressure from environmentalists and Oregon’s two U.S. senators. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was scheduled to vote Thursday morning on whether to approve the expansion of the Gas Transmission Northwest Express pipeline, or GTN Xpress, that sends billions of cubic feet of natural gas each day from Canada to customers in the Northwest and California, including a spur that passes just north of Ashland on its way to its terminus just south of Medford. Natural gas, used to heat and power about one-quarter of all Oregon homes, is mostly methane — a potent greenhouse gas that is a main contributor to global climate change. 

The pipeline’s owner, Calgary-based TC Energy, asked the commission in 2021 to allow it to expand the pipeline’s capacity, moving millions more cubic feet of natural gas to customers each day due to what the company said is growing demand. 

But on Wednesday, the day before the five-member commission was to take its final vote, members received letters from two dozen environmental organizations, along with Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, urging the commission to vote “no” or to delay a vote. 

A map of the Gas Transmission Northwest Express pipeline, or GTN Express, from the Idaho-Canada border to Southern Oregon, showing proposed modifications. Courtesy of TC Energy

The commission struck the vote from its agenda Thursday morning, but did not provide an explanation, commission spokesperson Mary O’Driscoll said in an email.

“The commission does not discuss internal deliberations,” she said.

The commission is scheduled to meet again Sept. 21, but the vote has not been rescheduled yet, O’Driscoll said.

In response to the delay, a TC Energy spokesperson said the company is not dismayed and that the pipeline expansion has strong regional support. On its website, comments from state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, and U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, an Oregon Republican, extol the project. 

“We remain firmly committed to advancing this critically important project and are confident it will be approved,” the TC Energy spokesperson wrote in an email. 

Expanding the GTN Xpress
The Gas Transmission Northwest Express, or GTN Xpress, is a 1,400-mile long, 61-year-old pipeline sending more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas from western Canada to West Coast consumers each day. 
In 2021, the pipeline’s owner, TC Energy, asked the Federal Energy Commission to allow it to invest $335 million in upgrades to expand the pipeline’s capacity by an additional 150 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

But other Oregon politicians have pushed back on the project. 

In their letter to the energy commission Wednesday, Wyden and Merkley wrote that TC Energy had not demonstrated a true need for the expansion from customers, adding that increasing natural gas infrastructure was antithetical to the state’s climate goals. Under Oregon’s Climate Protection Program, greenhouse gas emissions need to decrease 90% by 2050. Natural gas utilities will need to count for at least 26% of that reduction.

“GTN Xpress is a significant fossil fuel expansion at a time when Oregon and Washington are moving away from fossil fuels,” the senators wrote. “GTN Xpress is simply incompatible with the laws of the states of Oregon and Washington. At the same time, TC Energy has failed to show that there is adequate need for the GTN Xpress.”

In August 2022, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum joined California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in petitioning the commission to deny the request.

The attorneys general disputed the need for more natural gas and said the company had given conflicting reasons for the planned expansion, telling investors that increasing capacity would expand market share, while telling the federal energy commission that it needed to meet rising demand. 

The attorneys general said the expansion would result in an additional 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide being released for at least the next 30 years.

Rogue Climate, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in southern Oregon, was among the groups that submitted letters of opposition to the commission Wednesday, noting that a natural gas pipeline owned by TC Energy had exploded in Virginia on Tuesday.

“Our communities have been loud and clear for months: we don’t want or need another fossil fuel expansion,” Alessandra de la Torre, the group’s advocacy director, said in an email. “Now FERC has more time to take opposition to this project seriously and shut down GTN Xpress once and for all.”

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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