The Pacific Connector Pipeline and Fish
How will the LNG affect water-based tourism in Southern Oregon?
According to the American Sportsfishing Association, Oregon ranks seventh for non-resident fishing destinations for visiting anglers. That’s hundreds of thousands of visitors spending tens of millions and generating somewhere between 8,000-15,000 jobs.
But for nearly a decade, Oregon has found itself a key player in the controversial Pacific Connector pipeline proposal. The pipeline would transport liquid natural gas from the Rocky Mountains to Coos Bay and export the product to Asia. California, Washington, and British Columbia have all bowed out of the deal making Oregon’s decision crucial if the pipeline is to ever be built. Imminent domain, jobs, and clean energy are just a handful of issues that concerned citizens have raised. But installation of the pipeline would include an underground crossing of the Rogue River (among others) where the pipe will be laid five feet below the riverbed, which also raises questions of how the pipeline might affect the tourism industry, particularly fishing, here in Southern Oregon.
George Angerbauer, Public Outreach Spokesman for Williams Company (the company that will be doing the actual construction) feels confident that the installation poses no threat to the Oregon fishing industry. When asked what the long-term effects of the project will have on water-based tourism in Oregon Angelbauer says, “None whatsoever.”
However, Robyn Janssen, the Clean Water Campaigner for Rogue Riverkeeper, doesn’t agree.
“The construction of the pipeline will require massive amounts of truck and heavy machinery traffic to pass through small tourist-based towns like Shady Cove making time spent there much less desirable for visitors,” she says. “Noise, traffic, and pollution will increase during the construction phase deterring people from utilizing this section of highway and river and therefore the businesses who depend on that tourism for their livelihood.”
Jannsen and other opponents are also concerned about the danger of “frack outs” which involve horizontal directional drilling required to install the pipe. If the bedrock fractured at the time of drilling, harmful drilling fluids could leak into the river and cause a tremendous amount of environmental damage, something they say could would negatively impact critical Coho spawning beds located in the Rogue River.
“This area is one of the more popular sections to fish in the spring and fall and if anything were to affect the fishing in this area, fishing guides and outfitters would suffer,” she says.
But Angerbauer says that his company has had good rapport with outfitters in the past.
“We have a pipeline across the White Salmon River which is a popular place for kayakers,” he says. “We got great feedback from the outfitters we worked with. Park rangers provided us with timing of when they expected rafting to occur so we could work around busy tourist windows. We expect to have the same cooperation and working relationship with outfitters related to tourism along the waterways in Southern Oregon.”
Bob Barker, a Shady Cove fisherman and staunch opponent of the project says he wouldn’t have moved to Shady Cove had he known about the pipeline.
“Oregon is a state where people value it for its recreational activities,” he says. “Any time you have scars on the land the broader message is that Oregon doesn’t value this as much. California doesn’t approve, Washington doesn’t approve. Why should Oregon?”
Concern about Oregon’s environment isn’t unwarranted. A 93′ wide swath of clearcut would be necessary in order to build the 232 miles of pipeline. It would cross roughly 400 streams and waterways. Then there are questions about the salmon habitat and spawning grounds.
“Stream-side vegetation and trees would be cleared which will eliminate much needed shade that helps keep the water cold,” she says. “As our winters get shorter and our snowpacks gets smaller, our rivers will get warmer and lower and our fish will suffer. Removing streamside vegetation on top of all of that is just one more element that will aid in increasing water temperatures that will affect these sensitive species. We need to learn how to look at the cumulative impacts and not just one at a time anymore.”
But Angerbauer maintains that Williams Company strives to work around established fish windows and at no time would they be constructing when there would be fish in the water. He also claims they do their best to prevent erosion.
“We use sediment control measures,” he says. “We maintain downstream flow and we restore water body channels to original grade or stable condition by replanting riparian areas.”
“Oregon has spent millions on dam removal, riparian zone restoration, and overall fish habitat improvements to try to help our dwindling salmon populations,” Janssen says. “A project like this seems to go directly against all of those improvements especially in iconic salmon watersheds like the Rogue and the Umpqua. And all for the benefit of a Canadian company.”
But to say Janssen is only concerned about fish and clean water would be inaccurate. She fears that an accident or explosion would likely put communities at great risk.
“Williams Company has had four gas pipeline and infrastructure explosions alone this last year,” she says. “The consequences of a pipeline explosion could result in a forest fire. Also, the pipeline safety standards for rural areas are much lower than in metropolitan areas increasing potential risks for breaks, cracks, leaks and potential explosions and catastrophes.”
Angerbauer admits there have been accidents in the past, though none involving gas pipelines in the Pacific Northwest.
“We do a very thorough investigation with our federal oversight bodies and look at what caused the accident and we learn from it. Natural gas remains and continues to be the safest form of energy transportation in the country and the world. Accidents are rare and we are actually proud of our overall safety record.”
“Call the Governor, write your senators, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, talk to your friends and spread the word,” she says. “This is a David and Goliath kind of fight…small communities standing up against the fossil fuel industry. It seems daunting and unattainable but I always return to the quote by Margaret Mead, “ ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’”