Fuel’s gold


The coastal town of Coos Bay appears poised to land every economic development director’s dream: a single employer that will bring hundreds of family-wage jobs and millions in tax revenue. 

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Coos Bay’s North Spit:
site of proposed LNG export facility


The coastal town of Coos Bay appears poised to land every economic development director’s dream: a single employer that will bring hundreds of family-wage jobs and millions in tax revenue.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project, a joint effort between Canadian energy group Veresen and Oklahoma-based infrastructure company Williams, is considering building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the north spit of Coos Bay. The facility would accept natural gas from a new pipeline originating in Klamath County, liquefy it and ship it to markets in Asia. 

Michael Hinrichs, director of public affairs for the project, says the effort represents a $7.7 billion investment, which would make it the largest single private investment in the state’s history. “That’s even more significant when you consider it’s in southern Oregon, an area that really needs development.”

Building the LNG facility and accompanying power plant will bring 2,100 construction jobs to the region, Hinrichs reports. Pipeline construction will bring an additional 1,400. Once the plants are up and running, they’re expected to employ up to 200 people and create 700 indirect jobs. 

How many of those workers will be locals is still a matter of debate. Jordan Cove aims to hire construction workers from Southern Oregon, Hinrichs says. However, many of the positions at the LNG plant and the pipeline are highly specialized and require skills residents are unlikely to possess. 

Rodger Craddock, Coos Bay’s city manager, still considers the glass half full. “We’re looking at all the spin-off businesses that will develop to service those new workers,” he says. He points to a new hardware store, an auto-parts store and a microbrewery that recently opened in the area. Properties that have been off the market for a long time are coming back because people realize changes may be coming. 

The big, fossil fuel-based project has created controversy. The main source of local opposition is Citizens Against LNG. Among their concerns: The facility will take up a large amount of space adjacent to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Should it be abandoned, it will leave behind a sizeable eyesore in an area important to tourism. The plant will be in a flood and tsunami zone and near an airport, raising safety concerns. Transport tankers require a large security perimeter around them, which may affect recreational and commercial fishing. There is evidence that exporting natural gas will raise prices for American consumers. 

In addition to concerns about the LNG plant, the pipeline will cut across land belonging to farmers and ranchers, something many private land owners oppose. It will cross five rivers and hundreds of small streams, disturbing salmon habitats. Approximately 5,000 people from the four counties affected by the pipeline have signed a petition opposing it.

Jody McCaffree, Citizens Against LNG’s volunteer executive director, prefers the community focus on existing industries, such as the region’s farms and dairies, or renewable energy projects. “We could build wind turbines or do other things that aren’t as destructive to the environment and the bay.” 

A Seattle company is exploring an offshore wind farm in the area; however, it’s hard to blame officials for jumping at the opportunities presented by Jordan Cove. Besides jobs, the facility and pipeline are expected to bring millions of dollars in taxes and other revenue.

Jordan Cove’s only remaining hurdle is obtaining permits from regulatory agencies — no small feat, Hinrichs acknowledges. Still, if the project can stay on schedule, expect building on the LNG facility to begin in 2015, with pipeline construction starting a year later.

Port of Coos Bay Facts: Built in 1912. During peak years, the port saw 300 vessel calls a year. Now the number is closer to 60. If the Jordan Cove project goes forward, vessel calls are expected to reach 180 annually.

“I didn’t start out to oppose this project. But the more I studied it, I thought, ‘Why would we do this?’ We’re not against jobs. We want the jobs of the future. If we’re going to dig up our natural habitat, it should be for something that’s going to be here 20 years from now. You’re not going to get that with fossil fuel infrastructure.” —Jody McCaffree, Citizens Against LNG

Project timeline:

2014: Obtain permits from regulatory agencies 
2015: Begin construction of LNG plant and South Dunes Power Plant
2016: Begin pipeline construction
2019: All facilities operational