A top adviser to President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to throw the administration’s support behind a proposed controversial liquefied national 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, chair of the White House 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.”
While 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 sited in Oregon’s Port of Coos Bay. That’s where Veresen, the Calgary-based company whose subsidiary is proposing the project, wants to construct two massive, 160,000-cubic-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 out to tanker ships for sale abroad.
It isn’t clear what Cohn meant in saying that “we’re going to permit” the project, because final approval actually falls to 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 232 mile 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 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 in December 2016. However, the company promptly announced plans to refile and in February — now under the Trump administration — started that process.
The only other proposed LNG export terminal besides Jordan Cove to have been rejected by FERC was a project in Maine that was also terminated last year, according to agency spokesman Craig Cano.
Cohn met with Don Althoff, the CEO 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.”
“I think what we got was the commitment to work with us to make sure that there was oversight for the federal groups that are going to be on the permitting process,” Althoff told Bloomberg after the meeting. “And I think that is going to be very important and very helpful.”
But none of this means that any future approval will necessarily go quickly. The commission has only two of its five seats currently occupied, and another of those is expected to become vacant this summer, which means it cannot achieve a quorum to vote on projects. Moreover, new FERC appointments require Senate confirmation.
Veresen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Liquefied natural gas is simply natural gas that has been converted to a liquid form, rendering it more compact and allowing it to be transported more easily. Because the U.S. has recently become such a major natural gas producer thanks to the fracking boom, the opportunity to export that gas to markets globally has drawn growing attention. This may explain Cohn’s contention that exporting LNG presents an “enormous” opportunity for the U.S.
But at the same time, such projects have often garnered considerable 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.