WARRENTON - Four companies are in the running to construct a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River.
They have different owners, timetables and strategies. And their paperwork is in different stages.
Following is a summary of where they are - and what is to come.
Northern Star farthest aheadIf all goes smoothly and as scheduled for Northern Star Natural Gas, construction of the company's proposed Bradwood Landing LNG facility could start in less than a year, a company official said.
Bradwood is one of the four LNG terminals proposed for the lower Columbia River, as developers hope to take advantage of the demand for natural gas by bringing a superchilled form of the fossil fuel to the Pacific Northwest.
Northern Star's project is the only one that has started the prefiling process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, although the others - two in Warrenton and one in Port Westward, north of Clatskanie - are all working toward that first official step.
And Northern Star is about ready to take the next step.
"Things are going exceptionally well," said Gary Coppedge, the company's vice president for permitting and development. "We're in the final process of completing our application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission." The company hopes to submit the application in the first part of June, he said, at which point FERC would start drawing up a draft environmental impact statement.
Over the past eight months, the company has been filing two drafts of resource reports for both the terminal and the pipeline that would take the natural gas to the main distribution pipeline, he said, expressing optimism about the proposal.
"We've dealt with or designed around or mitigated or whatever any big obstacles to this," Coppedge said. "We're feeling really good about the project."
When it files an application with FERC, Northern Star will also file a waterway suitability analysis with the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency that looks at issues surrounding LNG tankers coming into and up the river. The analysis looks at factors such as interactions with other ships on the river and safety plans.
The U.S. Coast Guard will verify and analyze the WSA, Coppedge said, and issue recommendations for whether, and how, the river can accommodate LNG tankers.
"The Coast Guard, they are the experts at providing security and safety on the river, and they are not going to allow something on the river that is not safe," Coppedge said.
Northern Star will also file a coastal zone consistency determination with the state, an application with the state Department of Environmental Quality for air and water permits and a Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coppedge said.
While officials with other companies have said that there isn't a race between the four proposals, Coppedge disagreed and said that Northern Star, which is funded through its development stage, is far ahead.
"I'm not too worried about any other projects on the river," he said. "What you have to do to win is to get there first, and we're in a very good position to do that." The company could be "permitted and ready to go by second quarter next year," he said.
Ethanol and progressPort Westward in Columbia County has been in the news recently with the announcement of Cascade Grain Products LLC planning to build a $192 million ethanol plant to bring new jobs to the region.
A little way "down the street" (see map on Page 1), Port Westward LNG is negotiating with the Port of St. Helens to lease the final piece of property it needs to move forward with the project.
"We expect to start the permitting process within 90 days," said Bob Ramage, Port Westward LNG's president. The company had experienced delays because a family didn't want to sell or lease land necessary for the project. The port worked out an agreement to lease the property from the Thompson family in March.
"We have received a letter of intent from the Port of St. Helens, in which they've said they would consider leasing the waterfront property at Port Westward to us," Ramage said. "We're in the process now of continuing the development of the project on the business side."
The company is talking to prospective LNG suppliers, customers and financiers, he said, declining to go into specifics.
He said he sees Port Westward's strengths in its location - a remote area with existing industrial development, buyers of natural gas nearby and proximity to the main distribution pipeline.
"It obviously would be a competitive issue, and our belief is that the terminal with the best site will be the one that is able to attract supply from Pacific Rim suppliers," Coppedge said.
At Tansy Point in Warrenton, Warrenton Fiber is moving forward with its proposal to build a LNG receiving terminal, said Steve Fulton, a spokesman for the project.
"We don't have anything in hand ready to announce to the public; however, we're actively pursuing this project," he said. Economic and environmental studies have been done, he said, and the company is considering different potential financing sources, such as venture capital firms and large gas and oil companies.
One benefit of the Tansy Point project is that the company is already operating an industrial site, with a deep-water dock, and has ties to the community, Fulton said.
"We have an ongoing industrial operation on the site; consequently, the owners and employees are members of the community, and there's a strong desire to keep this business operating locally."
He added that the company continues to talk with city officials about issues that have been brought up in public meetings. In April 2005, the Warrenton City Commission voted to give Warrenton Fiber five years to negotiate lease amendments that would allow an LNG terminal on the site. The commission has said that certain criteria, such as those surrounding safety, environmental impacts and finances, need to be addressed and settled before the city agrees to changes in the lease.
Calpine still in the mixWhile Calpine Corp. is focused on its restructuring after filing for bankruptcy in December, officials with its subsidiary, Skipanon Natural Gas, are still working on the proposal for an LNG receiving terminal in Warrenton.
"We're still focused on finding a partner who will take over part or all of the development on the project," said Peter Hansen, vice president of business development with Calpine. The partner would likely be a long-term developer, owner and/or operator, he said, and could be a company that currently owns LNG production facilities, owns tankers, markets natural gas or is involved with other aspects of the natural gas business.
"There really are a number of different people who could be interested in something like this, depending on where in the market chain or the value chain they fit in," he said. What part Calpine would continue to play in the project is still to be determined, he said, since the company is focusing on the generating side of the power business, but still might be considering "associated activities."
Hansen said that he's not sure Northern Star's progress has any effect on the Skipanon project.
"As long as Bradwood is not in construction, I think people would see the obvious, that the Skipanon is the right location," he said, adding that LNG tankers would not have to go under the Astoria Bridge and up the Columbia River.
Although the Warrenton City Commission decided in December to approve comprehensive plan and zone changes, the decision is being challenged by LNG opposition groups in Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals. The hearing is scheduled for June 8 in Salem.
Once Calpine has a partner on board, Hansen said, officials with the project will start FERC's prefiling process.
Feds keep an eye on thingsAlthough the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave FERC exclusive siting authority for LNG facilities, it also said that states retain their authority under the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, said Dale Blanton. He's the state federal relations coordinator with the coastal management program, part of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.
"Essentially, state coastal management programs are intended to make sure that federal actions in the coastal zone don't impact either coastal uses or coastal resources in ways that are contrary to state coastal management requirements," Blanton said.
LNG facility applicants will file a consistency certification with the coastal management program, he said, and state officials will review the fit of the terminal with Oregon's statewide planning goals, Clatsop County's comprehensive plan and state regulatory authorities such as the Department of State Lands and Department of Environmental Quality.
None of the projects have filed a consistency certification yet, he said, but the coastal zone program has provided comments to FERC and the applicants about what they should consider.
"Each project is different, it really depends on the nature of the site and the resources that occur either near or on the site," he said.
One issue Blanton mentioned is that the Columbia River estuary is divided up into management units under goal 16 of the statewide plan, and dredging and in-water structures such as berths need to be in a development management unit. In drafts he's seen of Northern Star's plans, the proposal didn't always line up with the management unit, he said, so he and others encouraged the company to work with the county to ensure consistency.
Once the coastal zone management program gets the consistency certification, they will review it and take public comments, probably holding a public hearing as well.
"I think these large projects that have sort of a number of local issues and concerns, it's just important to get out" to the local community, he said.
The program can concur with the consistency certification, object to it or concur with conditions, he said. The authority of this decision as it relates to FERC's siting decision is still unknown, he said.
"There are numerous legal issues that come with trying to balance the language in the Energy Policy Act with these other existing authorities," Blanton said.
Pipeline under scrutinyIn addition to filing the LUBA appeal of Warrenton's zoning changes, LNG opponents are taking a look at the pipelines the LNG companies would use to transport regasified natural gas from the facility to the main distribution pipeline, which goes through the Longview/Kelso area.
More than 100 people came to a recent meeting of property owners who could be affected by the pipeline, said Columbia Riverkeeper's Brent Foster.
"Some of the stories are enough to make you want to join in the property rights movement," he said.
The meeting included a presentation about pipelines and a lawyer gave people advice about the condemnation process.
A second meeting is planned for May 31 at the Cowlitz P.U.D. in Longview, Wash., Foster said, and opponents are trying to put together a meeting with federal and state legislators.
"This is something that, whether you're a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat, ought to just really get under your skin," he said. "You're talking about putting a 3-foot-wide, massive high-pressure pipeline right in people's front yard."
It's hard to stop a pipeline company from taking property if it wants it, he said, and some people at the meeting concluded that the best way of stopping the pipeline is to stop the LNG facility.