Oregon Activists Fired Up to Fight Natural Gas Exports
It's hard to imagine the mouth of the Columbia River, where American explorers Lewis and Clark traversed during the 19th century, being overrun with a huge natural-gas export terminal and massive pipelines, just to stuff the pockets of dirty-energy companies.
But as crazy as that sounds, a proposal to build this terminal and its pipelines is in the works, along with another one in southern Oregon. And if you're at all involved in the movement to stop natural gas companies from exporting their product to lucrative foreign markets, then you have an ally in Ted Gleichman, a Portland resident who is doing everything he can to keep the natural legacy of Oregon and the Columbia River intact.
"The challenge is fighting multi-billion dollar projects that create short-term jobs but at a very high direct environmental cost, in terms of damage to Columbia River estuaries and the damage pipelines at the width of interstate highways will do," Gleichman says.
The proposal along the Columbia is for a $7.1 billion set of projects that would connect natural gas drilling and fracking in Canada and the Rockies to an export terminal near historic Astoria, Oregon, to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia -- where the price is five times the price in North America. More than 200 miles of enormous pipelines would run south from the Canadian border through Washington state, tunnel under the Columbia River, and cut through northwestern Oregon to a massive industrial plant -- complete with three 20-story gas-storage tanks -- at the heart of salmon breeding grounds.
Gleichman and other Sierra Club activists are helping to lead the charge to stop this export proposal, and another in southern Oregon. They've joined a coalition of other organizations -- Columbia Riverkeeper, Rogue Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, to name a few -- that are wondering what this barrage of natural gas and Big Coal export proposals would mean for the Columbia River and the Oregon forests and coastline.
Gleichman has been with the Sierra Club Oregon Chapter's LNG Committee for two years. As he puts it, there's nothing "natural" about natural gas.
"'Natural gas' is the best rebranding in history. It used to be known as 'swamp gas.' It's really methane. When it's extracted it's a gaseous hydrocarbon mix. The methane industry's marketing pitch is that it's clean-burning. But it's not, especially when it comes to fugitive emissions, which escape from drill rigs constantly," he says. "In most parts of the country because of marketing and pricing, people see natural gas as an alternative to coal. But it's still a dirty fossil fuel."
Why is Ted so passionate? Just like many Sierra Club activists, Ted wonders about the direction our planet is headed. When the government gives generous handouts to dirty energy, while clean energy technology is as reliable, it makes one wonder who's setting the priorities.
"I have a 95-year-old father-in-law and a grandson who will be two in the spring. If my grandson lives to my father-in-law's age, he will see 2106!" he says. "So when we talk about climate catastrophe and the warnings that the UN has issued about the food shortages to come -- even for aging Boomers like me -- we're only one degree of separation from that. And with the terrible devastation of Frankenstorm Sandy, it's here and now.
"For my grandson, it will be a challenge for the rest of his life. We don't think about the calendar math like that. But it puts it into perspective.
"The big question is, what is the path off of fossil fuels and onto renewables, and how do we make that work for our future? My generation has squandered a 35-year window for serious change since the Jimmy Carter era and I feel I have a core obligation to do the best I can. My grandson is always on my mind as I work on this."
(Photo credit: Top two from Ted Gleichman. Third photo courtesy of Columbia Riverkeeper.)
Want to get involved? Learn more about Liquefied Natural Gas and how natural gas companies are trying to get rich by exporting this dirty fuel.
-- Brian Foley