Feds OK natural gas pipeline expansion in Pacific Northwest over environmentalist protests

TC Energy's Keystone pipeline facility in 2015 in Hardisty, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Federal regulators on Thursday approved the expansion of a natural gas pipeline in the Pacific Northwest over the protest of environmental groups and top officials in West Coast states, who said it goes against the region’s plans to address climate change and could pose a wildfire risk.

The project, known as GTN Xpress, aims to expand the capacity of the Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline, which runs through Idaho, Washington and Oregon, by about 150 million cubic feet (4.2 million cubic meters) of natural gas per day. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave it the green light in a vote on Thursday.


TC Energy plans to modify three compressor stations along the pipeline — in Kootenai County, Idaho; Walla Walla County, Washington; and Sherman County, Oregon. Compressor stations help maintain the pressure and flow of gas over long distances in a pipeline.

Environmental groups criticized the decision.

In a statement, Audrey Leonard, staff attorney for environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper, said it represented a “rubber stamp of unnecessary fracked gas in the Northwest” and accused the energy agency of failing to listen to U.S. senators, governors, state attorneys general, tribes and members of the public.

Leonard said potential spills and explosions on the pipeline, which was built in the 1960s, would not only harm the environment but also present a heightened wildfire risk in the arid regions it passes through.

“An explosion of that level in eastern Washington or eastern Oregon would be catastrophic,” she said.

Leonard said Columbia Riverkeeper will appeal the federal regulators’ decision and submit a petition for a rehearing.

The pipeline belongs to TC Energy of Calgary, Canada — the same company behind the now-abandoned Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

The company said the project is necessary to meet consumer demand and welcomed the decision.

Environmentalists and officials opposed to the project have expressed concern about TC Energy’s safety record. Its Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline exploded in Strasburg, Virginia, in July and its existing Keystone pipeline spilled nearly 600,000 gallons of bitumen oil in Kansas last December.

The 1,377-mile (2,216-kilometer) pipeline runs from the Canadian border through a corner of Idaho and into Washington state and Oregon, connecting with a pipeline going into California.

Oregon, along with Washington and California, have passed laws requiring utilities to transition to 100% clean electricity sources by 2040 and 2045, respectively.

Idaho’s Republican governor and Congress members have supported the project and said that imposing other states’ climate policies would be “misguided.”

After the vote, Washington’s Democratic governor and California’s Democratic attorney general condemned the decision. And the Democratic U.S. Senators from Washington and Oregon described the project as “incompatible with our climate laws” in a letter to the energy agency.

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