Expansion Proposed for Northwest Natural Gas Pipeline

Canadian company TC Energy Corporation wants to boost the capacity of transporting natural gas across the Northwest by modifying compressor stations along the existing Gas Transmission Northwest Pipeline. The proposed project, they say, would get about 150,000 dekatherms more gas flowing through Oregon, Washington and Idaho per day – servicing about a half a million average homes. 

According to OPB, “Oregon has become increasingly dependent on natural gas to power homes and buildings. It’s become one of Oregon’s fastest growing sources of energy. The state’s natural gas capacity has tripled over the past decade. Power from natural gas-fired energy plants made up 28% of the state’s electric generation and supported 21% of the state’s energy consumption in 2018. Oregon uses a lot of natural gas, but supplies very little of it.” 

TC Energy says in its application for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the project that the expansion is necessary to meet demand, and that the benefits “far outweigh the potential adverse impacts.”   

Critics Weigh In 

However, critics say it’s not necessary and ignores the larger trend toward renewable sources of power like wind, solar and hydro. 

Erin Saylor, staff attorney with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, says the region is moving away from its reliance on natural gas extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Methane leaks associated with the production, transport and storage of natural gas can quickly erase the benefits of natural gas over coal. Methane is itself an extremely potent greenhouse gas. 

Oregon and Washington have each recently passed legislation to drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions from electricity providers. Power suppliers in Oregon have until 2040 to zero out their emissions, while Washington utilities have until 2045 to become carbon-free.  

Future Impact 

“These pipeline projects typically have a projected lifespan of 30 years or more,” Saylor told OPB, “meaning that this project will lock our region into continued reliance on fracked gas whether we like it or not.” 

The FERC must determine whether the pipeline expansion is in the public interest in order to approve the project. This week, FERC updated the policies guiding those decisions on natural gas projects. The changes allow the agency to more thoroughly consider a project’s contributions to climate change as well as its potential impact on landowners and environmental justice. 

“We’re expecting demand for gas to drop significantly,” Saylor said, “which means there isn’t going to be a need for all of this gas that they’re planning to push into our region.” 

By Stacey Newman Weldon 

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