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Feds: Oregon plant would be large carbon source

The Columbian
Published: November 21, 2014, 12:00am

PORTLAND — A proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay would become one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in Oregon, federal data shows.

The assessment came as the Jordan Cove Energy Project seeks permission to release 2.1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to an environmental analysis from energy regulators.

At that level, it would have been Oregon’s second-largest source of greenhouse gases in 2013, based on reports from the emission reports from the state’s major polluters, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1uL9HCQ) reported Tuesday.

The largest emitter last year was Portland General Electric’s coal-fired plant at Boardman. The utility says it plans to stop burning coal there by 2020.

Much of the Jordan Cove emissions would come from energy used to liquefy natural gas so it can be shipped to Asia.

The project would have its own power plant generating 420 megawatts, enough electricity to serve more than 400,000 homes.

Another source, about 20 percent of total emissions, would come from venting carbon dioxide as the natural gas is purified before liquefaction.

The draft environmental impact statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that the Jordan Cove project would have a limited environmental impact that could be reduced to non-significant levels.

The commission has so far approved four LNG export facilities. Jordan Cove could be the fifth.

Operators say Jordan Cove would meet state and federal air quality standards for pollutants such as particulates, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. Jordan Cove officials point out that those emissions would be lower than those from the paper mill that used to occupy the Coos Bay site.

Michael Hinrichs, a spokesman for Jordan Cove, said the company was closely listening to the national and state discussion on carbon and was focused on meeting existing pollution standards that don’t strictly limit carbon.

In 2007, the Legislature set goals for reducing carbon emissions in Oregon. Gov. John Kitzhaber has made that a priority by, for example, opposing coal exports from Oregon in part due to potential carbon impacts and pursuing a clean fuel standard to reduce carbon emissions from transportation.

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Kitzhaber calls natural gas a valuable transition fuel to greener alternatives, but has yet to weigh in on the carbon impacts of exporting natural gas from the state.

The Legislature created a state Global Warming Commission to recommend ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and its members are appointed by the governor. Chairman Angus Duncan said Jordan Cove will hurt Oregon’s ability to meet its goals.

“Whether it’s coal exports or LNG, to the extent Oregon has the ability to resist, impede or slow these things down, we should be doing that,” he said.

Supporters of LNG plants argue they will displace dirtier, coal-fired power generation in Asia, reducing greenhouse emissions as well as toxic emissions that float back to the West Coast on the jet stream.

A study commissioned by the U.S. Energy Department of Energy concluded that the total carbon emissions of gas produced, liquefied and shipped from a Gulf Coast LNG terminal and burned at a power plant in Shanghai are still slightly lower than energy produced with Chinese coal or gas imported via pipeline from Russia. The numbers might look even better for a West Coast LNG terminal with shorter shipping distances.

Opponents counter that U.S. gas exports are creating a new category of fossil-fuel emissions. They point to studies showing that Asia’s use of LNG will also displace renewable energy and increase energy consumption, erasing carbon benefits.

They also say environmental analyses should take into account the emissions from increased drilling for natural gas to supply the export markets.