June 6, 2017

Controversial Natural Gas Exporter Raids Libraries to Remove Public Records

Jon Conway, Ph.D.

The long, rocky history of Oregon’s Jordan Cove Energy Project took an unexpected and illegal turn last week, when representatives from the gas export company removed records from the shelves of public libraries in four counties where the pipeline is slated to run.

This act—the deliberate theft of publicly-owned documents by a fossil fuel company—is just the latest development in the controversy surrounding the natural gas line and export terminal in southern Oregon: Yet another fracked gas pipeline revived under President Donald Trump.

Since it was first announced to the public a decade ago, the pipeline and terminal have met with strong opposition from indigenous activists, environmental groups, and landowners who risk having their land seized under eminent domain along the pipeline route.

 Denied twice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Jordan Cove Energy Project is again threatening natural resources, tribal sovereignty, and now, public transparency all in the interest of fossil fuel profit.

Empty Shelves 

On Sunday, an Instagram post from Oregon grassroots coalition No LNG Exports (@nolngexports) showed pictures of library shelves in Coos Bay Public Library before and after being raided by Jordan Cove representatives.

According to company spokesperson Michael Hinrichs, the library records were outdated and were taken to avoid confusing the public—despite the fact that the majority of the records were submitted by federal agencies and were not owned by the company.

Coos Bay librarian Paul Addis told the Mail Tribune that a representative from the company came to the library and asked to take all records pertaining to the project: Shelves’ worth of documents, most of which had not been submitted by Jordan Cove. Addis told her to come back later and he would give her the records that had been submitted by the company.

Company representatives returned when Addis was not available and, despite the librarian’s instructions that only documents provided by the company could be removed, they took all the records they could find—including those that were submitted by public agencies like FERC.

Even though the content of the documents may have been outdated, it remains illegal for a private company to raid local libraries for records that, by definition, belong to the public. Jordan Cove’s maneuver to limit local communities’ access to pipeline information violates not only the law, but surrounding communities’ rights to such records.  

While this action technically constitutes theft, it is unlikely the libraries will press charges.

 Over the past several years, Jordan Cove has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on grants to local community organizations in attempts to sway public opinion about the project. Earlier this month, they awarded $60,000 in grants to community organizations in counties through which the proposed pipeline will run—including two libraries. Funds from these grants come from the company’s Community Enhancement Plan, whereby it has arranged to establish a community fund in lieu of paying property taxes. While this may seem altruistic, it allows Jordan Cove to channel funds to specific groups to build public support—and possibly discourage speaking out against shady behavior such as stealing public records from libraries operating on tight budgets—while avoiding costly real estate taxes.

A "Zombie" Gas Line 

First submitted for approval in 2007 by Canadian energy infrastructure company Veresen, the Jordan Cove Energy Project comprises the 235 mile Pacific Connector Gas pipeline and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the coast.

Often referred to as a “zombie project” due to its repeated rejection by FERC, the natural gas line was most recently resurrected in May of this year.

This revival is in part due to greater demand for natural gas in Japan as they phase out nuclear power following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, as well as the $9.7 billion merger of Jordan Cove owner Veresen with Canadian pipeline company Pembina. Additionally, in his crusade to establish “American energy dominance,” Donald Trump has nominated three new pro-fossil fuel commissioners to lead FERC. The regulatory agency had denied the Jordan Cove project twice before, citing “little or no evidence of need” as well as impacts to landowners along the pipeline route, but these new appointees may view the project more favorably. Trump’s National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn has recently come out strongly in favor of the project.

Once operational, the project would stretch across most of southern Oregon and connect natural gas sources in Canada and the Rocky Mountains to East Asian markets. The terminal that receives, liquefies, and stores the natural gas will be located just over a mile away from the communities of Coos Bay and North Bend. Storing over 90 million gallons of LNG, the terminal poses a significant safety hazard to nearby communities and ecosystems due to the potential for catastrophic explosion.

"Water is Life"

In the aftermath of the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) last year, indigenous leaders and anti-pipeline activists in the Pacific Northwest have renewed their own battle against the LNG project. The Hoopa, Karuk, Klamath, Modoc, and Yurok tribes of southern Oregon and Northern California have all ardently opposed its construction. 

Several demonstrations and forums have been held this year, with Natives and their allies coming together to protest the project. Their signs, like those present at #NoDAPL rallies across the country, depict slogans like “Water is Life” and “No Pipelines Under Our Sacred River.”

Thomas Joseph II, a member of the Hoopa tribe in Northern California, was in North Dakota for five months in protest of DAPL, and helped to establish the California Kitchen to feed water protectors who lived in the resistance camps. He is now fighting a pipeline much closer to his ancestral lands with his mother, fellow Hoopa tribal member Patty Joseph. Together, they have attended every Jordan Cove open house to protest the gas line. 

“We consider ourselves water protectors, not protesters,” Joseph told the Herald and News in March. “They burn fossil fuels into the atmosphere that we all breathe, we are all affected by dirty air and climate change. We are looking down at 10 generations to protect what our creator has given us and we are defending the motherland from local terrorists.”

Citing issues of tribal sovereignty and the destruction of natural resources and sacred sites, several Native American tribal governments in and around the Klamath River Basin have allied themselves with a group called Klamath Riverkeeper in opposition to Jordan Cove’s project. The group has been organizing against the gasline extensively as part of their ongoing campaign to protect the Klamath River and its tributaries. Their past work has including advocating for clean water, dam removal, and the elimination of unnecessary diversion that reduce water levels in the river basin. They have relied heavily on the Clean Water Act for many of their successes, which is currently in danger of being weakened as the Trump administration seeks to repeal a key part of the Act.

Chairman Donald Gentry/Dici Gyank (Lives Good) of the Klamath tribe told water protectors earlier this year that his tribe has written a letter to LNG and consulted local politicians, to no avail.

“LNG is an unacceptable risk to our cultural sites, our burial sites, and our rivers. We are concerned with sustainability,” the chairman said. “We’re seeing the impacts now, to our plants, our fish and with fracking earthquakes.”

This is not the first time that the Klamath River has been the site of indigenous activism in the protection of natural resources. A series of hydroelectric dams in the area has depleted the Chinook salmon that used to run there, including a major fish kill in 2002 when the already-depleted river was diverted for irrigation. Water protectors scored a major victory last year when Pacificorp, the owner of four dams along the Klamath, agreed to demolish the dams by 2020. However, final approval for the dam removal is up to FERC, and Trump’s nomination of three new commissioners casts doubt on whether river restoration will continue.

An Uncertain Future 

If completed, the Jordan Cove Energy Project—according to the most recent Environmental Impact Statement for the gas line—would affect over 4.5 thousand acres of vegetation and more than 800 acres of old-growth forest.The terminal would use 1.7 billion gallons of water during construction and 1.3 million gallons of water per day during operation, which is more than 1/4th of the total freshwater supply of the local watershed.

report filed to FERC shows that the terminal, which will store close to 90 million gallons of LNG, also poses a significant safety hazard to nearby communities due to the potential for catastrophic explosion.

Given the extensive risks posed by the Jordan Cove project, opponents have speculated that the company chose southern Oregon, at least in part, because the region is low income and does not have the resources or activist base found elsewhere on the West Coast to stop the pipeline. For instance, every LNG project has been denied in California—likely due to anti-fracking and environmentally-conscious community organizing. 

It’s important to note that, despite pro-pipeline rhetoric, the Jordan Cove Energy Project will not promote American energy independence or economic vitality; its sole purpose is to increase the profits of a foreign fossil fuel company by running a 235 mile explosion hazard through private and public property to a storage and shipping terminal located on soft sand in a tsunami and earthquake zone. Natural gas pipelines and storage facilities have a long history of fatal explosions, so it is unsurprising that Oregonians are opposed to the idea of a ticking time bomb being planted under their feet.

Klamath Modoc tribal member Millie Wahl sees the protest as essential, telling the Herald and News earlier this year, “Water is life. Period. If we don’t stand up now for all people, it’s going to affect everybody.”

Public comments on the Jordan Cove LNG terminal/Pacific Connector Gas pipeline project (docket # PF17-4-000) may be submitted to FERC online at www.ferc.gov until July 10th via the eComment or eFiling portal. For assistance, call (202)-502-8258 or email ferconlinesupport@ferc.gov.

To find out more about pipeline fights and water protectors, stay tuned to our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages. To support the legal defense of water protectors facing felonies from the #NoDAPL movement, please donate at lakotalaw.org/legalfund.