After a decade in regulatory and economic limbo, there is very little about a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay that isn’t subject to debate and controversy.
And now a statewide survey concludes that most Oregonians oppose the project that has been on the drawing board for well over a decade.
Policy Interactive, a public opinion firm in Eugene, surveyed 1,115 state residents about the proposed terminal and pipeline. The online poll was partially funded by two environmental groups, though the audience was purchased from third party vendors, and respondents didn’t know the topic until they agreed to participate.
The survey found 57 percent either strongly opposed or leaned toward opposing the Jordan Cove Energy Project, versus 22 percent who either leaned toward supporting or strongly supported the project. Twenty percent of respondents were undecided or neutral. Those results were consistent statewide, even in the congressional district where the project would be located.
Statewide, 30 percent of those surveyed strongly opposed the project, while only 6 percent strongly supported it.
The company backing the project doesn’t agree with the methodology or results, though it declined to get into a “he-said, she-said” debate over the specifics. The company also declined to say whether it had conducted its own polling on the project.
“The Jordan Cove Project receives strong support from local and state elected officials, and the thousands of business owners and community members who will benefit greatly from our work here in Oregon, said project spokesman Michael Hinrichs.
Jordan Cove would likely be the largest construction project in Oregon history. It includes a 232-mile feeder pipeline across Southern Oregon, as well as a massive terminal on the North Spit of Coos Bay to super-chill the gas into a liquid and load it on tankers for shipment across the Pacific. The total cost is estimated to come in between $8 billion to $10 billion.
Hinrichs said the project will produce more than 6,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent positions, many of which will be filled with locals from Southern Oregon. It also will generate tens of millions of dollars in community fees paid in lieu of property taxes, as the project is located in an enterprise zone.
Similar gas export terminals proposed on the Columbia River died after years of litigation and regulatory denials. Indeed, The Federal Energy Regulatory commission denied Jordan Cove a license in 2016, saying backers hadn’t demonstrated sufficient need for the project to compensate for the negative impacts on landowners affected by the pipeline.
The Calgary-based company backing the project, Pembina Pipeline Corp, has since reapplied and hopes the fossil-fuel friendly Trump administration will greenlight the project.
The project has polarized Oregonians since it was first proposed as a gas import project in 2004. More than a decade later, boosters are still hoping it will inject new life into a corner of the state that has lagged economically for decades and bolster property taxes that can be used to support local schools. Opponents, meanwhile, believe the economic benefits are illusory, and decry the potential environmental, public safety and property impacts.
Public sentiment may not be a deciding factor, as the decision rests with federal and state regulators. But Jordan Cove has spent heavily to build public support, and boosters have insisted that opponents of the project are a vocal minority.
Indeed, Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, who represents parts of Curry, Coos, Douglas, and Josephine counties, called The Oregonian/Oregon Live after hearing about the survey. He says that in his interactions with constituents, support for the project is “overwhelming.”
Coos County residents overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure last year that would have made it impossible to build the project. But even opponents of Jordan Cove said they thought the ballot measure was ill conceived and overreaching.
The survey did find the strongest support for the project – 26 percent – in congressional District 4, which includes Coos Bay and Brock Smith’s district. But 53 percent of respondents from that district were still opposed.
Moreover, only 37 precent of those surveyed within the district chose the statement, “It is desirable because of jobs and economic growth,” while 63 percent chose “It is undesirable because of private property rights and environmental impacts.”
Tom Bowerman, the director of Policy Interactive, said the survey did find a “thin margin of support” for the project among respondents who lived in Coos Bay proper, though he said the sample size was so small that the margin of error would have been above 15 percent, negating the result.
“That’s out of bounds for good inference of how the public feels,” he said.
Some controversy is embedded in the survey questions, as well. The first one directly dealing with Jordan Cove describes some of the pros and cons of the project, and includes a statement that the company has rejected in the past as categorically untrue: “Jordan Cove would be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.”
Bowerman said the statement was based on a 2017 study by a climate change advocacy group that suggested the project’s in-state greenhouse emissions would be comparable to Portland General Electric’s coal-fired plant in Boardman, and its total lifecycle emissions, including downstream emissions when the gas was burned in Asia, would be 15 times worse.
Jordan Cove objected to that study at the time. Based on its permitted level of in state emissions, the company says it would be the seventh largest source of greenhouse gases in the state, or sixth after the Boardman coal plant is retired in 2020.
The same survey question, when quantifying the benefits of the project, also uses a much lower construction jobs number — 2,000 — than Jordan Cove’s most recent estimate, which is three times higher. To be clear, however, the company’s job estimates have changed repeatedly, and the company still uses the 2,000 construction jobs number on its website.
Property rights have been one of the chief concerns with the project in southern Oregon, as the pipeline would cross more than 200 private properties. Two-thirds of the survey respondents agreed with the statement that the use of condemnation (eminent domain) to acquire pipeline right of ways would increase their opposition to the project.
– Ted Sickinger