Trump adviser calls for reviving a natural gas project on Oregon coast
A top adviser to President Trump on Thursday appeared to throw the administration’s support behind a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Oregon that had been rejected by regulators during the Obama administration.
“The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit an LNG export facility in the Northwest,” said Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council. “Just think of the transport time from the Northwest to Japan versus anywhere else. Then we’ve got to put facilities on the East Coast to get from the East Coast to Germany.
“The one place we’re going to permit in the Northwest, it’s been turned down twice already,” Cohn said in comments at the Institute of International Finance, in which he called the opportunity for exporting liquefied natural gas “enormous.”
Although Cohn did not name a specific project, the White House confirmed Thursday that Cohn was referring to the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal, which would be located in Oregon’s Port of Coos Bay. That’s where Veresen, the Calgary, Canada-based company whose subsidiary is proposing the project, wants to construct two 160,000cubic-meter storage tanks and other facilities that would receive natural gas from a pipeline, compress it into a liquid for transport, and then pipe it to tanker ships for sale abroad.
It isn’t clear what Cohn meant by saying that “we’re going to permit” the project, because final approval rests with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency.
Yet Cohn’s remarks fit with a broader push in the Trump administration to permit more large energy infrastructure projects, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission turned down Jordan Cove, as well as the proposed 232mile Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline that would link to it, in a unanimous decision in March 2016. The agency found that the project would be “inconsistent with the public interest,” chiefly because the pipeline would have significant “adverse effects on landowners,” many of whom did not approve of it and could have their properties disturbed or otherwise affected through eminent domain if it were to be built. Because the export terminal would not serve a purpose without the pipeline to connect to it, it was rejected, as well.
FERC also rejected a subsequent request that the pipeline be reconsidered last December. However, the company announced plans to refile, and in February — under the Trump administration — started that process.
Cohn met with Don Althoff, chief executive of Veresen, in March. Interviewed after that meeting, Althoff said the project would generate 4,000 construction jobs and 240 permanent jobs. He said they were reapplying for the permit because “now we meet the requirements for public good.”
But this does not mean that any future approval will necessarily go quickly. The commission has only two of its five seats occupied, and another of those is expected to become vacant this summer, which means it cannot achieve a quorum to vote on projects. Moreover, FERC appointments require Senate confirmation.
Veresen did not respond to requests for comment.
Liquefied natural gas is natural gas that has been converted to a liquid form, rendering it more compact and allowing it to be transported more easily. Because the United States has recently become such a major natural gas producer, thanks to the boom in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the opportunity to export that gas to markets around the world has drawn growing attention. This may explain Cohn’s contention that exporting LNG presents an “enormous” opportunity for the United States.
But such projects have often garnered environmental resistance, especially in the Pacific Northwest. The Sierra Club, Friends of Living Oregon Waters, Columbia Riverkeeper and many other groups had objected to the Jordan Cove project on environmental and other grounds.
Despite Cohn’s enthusiasm, it isn’t clear how big the market will ultimately be for exported U.S. natural gas. While the United States is late to the game, several other countries, led by Qatar, export large quantities. And the Henry Hub price of natural gas has risen over the past year from a low of $1.56 per million British thermal units in March 2016 to $3.09 on Monday, increasing its price for sale abroad as well as domestically.
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, with counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, said that the opportunity for exporting liquefied natural gas is “enormous.”