The Douglas County Planning Commission Thursday threw a monkey wrench in a developer’s plan to export liquefied natural gas through a pipeline that would cross Douglas County.
Developers now seek to export rather than import gas through a Coos Bay terminal, but their request was effectively rebuffed after the commissioners twice tied 3-3 on the issue.
A seventh commissioner, Mark Brosi, attempted to vote to allow the pipeline but was told by county staff that he was disqualified because he did not attend hearings on the subject and had not reviewed the record.
County Planning Director Keith Cubic said the developer will likely appeal to the Douglas County commissioners and, if they lose at that level, could challenge the decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
The Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline would move natural gas from the Plains and Canada to Coos Bay. The planning commission in 2009 issued a permit for the pipeline to cross 7 miles within the county’s Coastal Zone Management Area, but restricted the company to import natural gas only.
Market conditions have caused the developers to propose exporting natural gas, forcing the companies to seek new permits from federal regulators and counties affected by the project.
Planning Commissioner William Duckett voted against granting the permit to pipeline company Williams and energy developer Veresen U.S. Power.
He said they had used a “bait-and-switch” approach to gaining county approval for the project in 2009.
“When the applicant came in, sitting right here in front of us, we asked specifically, ‘Is this going to be for export?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely not, this not going to be for export. This is going to be for import only,’” Duckett said. “I think in my own viewpoint, it’s come in kind of like a Trojan horse.”
Commissioner Javier Goirigolzarri said he does not think the pipeline’s impact would be any different if it exports or imports gas.
“I’ll be darned if I can tell if the gas is going up, down, on or off at any point in time when I walk over the gas lines that are already in existence,” Goirigolzarri said.
Commissioner Romey Ware said it would be good to export natural gas.
“Countries that do well have a low trade deficit,” he said. “We’ve got commodities here that need to be exploited for the betterment of our country.”
Commissioner Victoria Hawks, who moved to reject the export request, said she felt other factors should be considered than those on which they were expected to make their decision.
She said the public here or in other Western states would not benefit from the gas if it is exported.
“That is not our public need. It may be somebody else’s, but I don’t think we have anything to do with that,” Hawks said.
Duckett, Hawks and Darrel Murphy voted twice to reject the export request. Ware, Goirigolzarri and George Seonbuchner voted twice to allow it.
“I think that’s what we call a hung jury,” Goirigolzarri said.
On Cubic’s advice, commissioners took a third, unanimous vote acknowledging that they could not come to an agreement and that failure meant the export request was not approved.
After the meeting, landowners with property in the pipeline’s pathway said they were pleased with the planning commission’s decision.
“I think that the commission did a good job. They did what they’re supposed to do in sorting out what is appropriate,” said landowner Richard Chasm.
He said the county commissioners will be taking up “a hot potato” once the decision is appealed to them.
Developers’ representatives who attended the meeting declined to comment and deferred questions to spokesman George Angerbauer.
“Pacific Connector is disappointed in the treatment of our land use application and we will appeal the commission’s decision. We understand there are questions about the pipeline project and the direction natural gas would flow through the pipeline, but these questions have no bearing on the project’s consistency with county land use plan and code requirements. We look forward to clarifying that point on appeal,” Angerbauer said.