By Alex Baumhardt / Oregon Capital Chronicle / August 31, 2022

Oregon has joined California and Washington in opposing a project that would increase the amount of natural gas flowing from Canada to the West Coast.

A 1,400-mile pipeline owned by Calgary-based TC Energy sends billions of cubic feet of natural gas to utilities supplying consumers in the Northwest and California each day. The pipeline runs from the Canada-Idaho border to Malin, a town in southern Oregon’s Klamath County. 

Natural gas is primarily used to heat and power homes and businesses, including at least a quarter of all homes in Oregon, according to the state’s Department of Energy.

In October of 2021, TC Energy asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow it to increase its capacity, adding millions of cubic feet of natural gas to the pipeline each day.

On Aug. 22, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum joined California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson in asking the commission to deny the request. 

In their petition, the attorneys general argued that allowing more natural gas to flow from Canada to the U.S. would harm the states’ efforts to combat climate change as the region shifts to renewable energy sources.

Natural gas, primarily made of the greenhouse gas methane, is a main contributor to global warming.  

Methane traps heat in the atmosphere and, when it’s burned, produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which also traps heat. Methane traps about 30 times as much heat as carbon dioxide and sticks around longer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The attorneys general also argued that expanding the natural gas supply will be paid for by existing customers — a violation of the commission’s policy. 

“The commission should find the project is improperly subsidized, does not serve a public necessity and is not in the public interest,” they said.

In an emailed statement to the Capital Chronicle, TC Energy wrote that it is expanding capacity due to increased demand from consumers in the western states which, it said, “further demonstrates the need for secure energy to supplement renewables as we work toward a cleaner energy future.”

Because the petition could prompt litigation, the Oregon Department of Justice declined to comment. “We will let our written filings speak for themselves,” Kristina Edmunson, the justice department’s communications director, said in an email. 

The Pipeline

The Gas Transmission Northwest Express is a 61-year-old pipeline sending more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas from western Canada to West Coast consumers each day. 

One billion cubic feet is enough to power 5 million U.S. homes for a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Last fall, the company asked the Federal Energy Commission to allow it to invest $335 million in upgrades to expand the pipeline’s capacity by an additional 150 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. The attorneys general disputed the need for more natural gas and said the company had given conflicting reasons for the planned expansion, telling investors that increasing capacity would expand market share and telling the federal commission it needs to meet rising demand. 

The officials argued that allowing the company to send more natural gas to the states conflicts with their mandates to  reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will result in 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide being released for at least the next 30 years.

In 2020, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order on climate that included targets for every state agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal is to get to a 90% reduction from 1990-levels during the next three decades. At least 26% of that reduction will have to come from natural gas utilities.

The attorneys general said state policy mandating a reduction in emissions from large private and public-sector emitters will significantly reduce the regional demand for natural gas. 

Major cities in California, such as Los Angeles and Berkley, and in Oregon, such as Eugene, are considering or adopting a ban on new natural gas hookups. In California, new rules passed Aug. 11 require that new structures primarily support electric-powered heating and appliances.

The attorneys general said the proposal would  “primarily serve the interests of Canadian gas producers in gaining market share, not the needs of American consumers.”

In response, TC Energy wrote that natural gas has contributed to reduced greenhouse gas emissions in North America: “Natural gas is a critical component of any strategy to meet North America’s long-term energy needs.”

FEATURED IMAGE:  A map of the Transmission Northwest Express pipeline from the Idaho-Canada border to Southern Oregon. (Courtesy of TC Energy)

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