Advocates from Sandpoint to Southern Oregon are gathering tonight to voice concerns.
By John McCallum, SpokaneFāVS
Capacity expansion of a natural gas pipeline running under southeast Spokane Valley and western and northwest Liberty Lake will be the subject of a “People’s Hearing” on Monday evening, Feb. 13.
Sponsored by Earth Ministry, a non-denominational, faith-based environmental education and advocacy nonprofit, the “People’s Hearing to Stop GTN Xpress Pipeline Expansion” takes place via Zoom from 5 to 7 p.m. The hearing is designed to not only inform the general public about the proposed expansion — which will allow GTN the ability to pump an additional 150 million cubic feet of fracked methane gas per day through a 62-year-old pipeline — but also take public testimony about the expansion.
Registration for the hearing can be done online. Comments from the hearing will be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposed project in June 2022.
According to the EIS, FERC issued a “Notice of Availability” of the draft to federal, state and local government agencies along with elected officials, environmental and public interest groups, tribes and others potentially affected by the expansion along the pipeline route, along with newspapers and libraries. The commission will not be holding any public meetings and will make a decision on the proposal Feb. 16.
“A lot of people might not know this pipeline exists, let alone expanding it to pump more gas through it,” Earth Ministry operations manager Maddie Smith said. “Our perspective is this is harming our neighbors and this goes against our faith-based interpretations.”
The pipeline — which is owned by GTN’s parent company, TC Energy, who also owns the Keystone Pipeline — delivers fracked methane gas from Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) fields in British Columbia to customers in Washington, Oregon and California. The company announced its plans for a $335 million expansion of the pipeline system in November 2019, and the “incremental capacity is expected to generate approximately $25 million in revenue annually when fully in service.”
Three-quarters of the project cost involves increasing pumping capacity of existing gas-fired turbine compressors via software upgrades at three compressor stations: Athol, Idaho; Starbuck, Walla Wall County, Washington and Kent in Sherman County, Oregon. Each of the 14,300 horsepower compressors will be upgraded to 23,470 hp, with a new 23,470 hp compressor installed at the Starbuck station.
GTN operates 612 miles of the 1,377-mile-long pipeline from Kingsgate, Idaho to Malin, Oregon. The pipeline is capable of transporting up to 2.7 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.
TC Energy officials cite a growing market need for natural gas as well as new market access in the Pacific Northwest as a reason for expanding the GTN pipeline capacity.
“The strong demand for natural gas pipeline capacity in the region, which GTNXP will provide, was reaffirmed when GTN secured long-term agreements with customers for 100 percent of the project capacity,” a TC Energy spokesperson wrote in response to questions about the GTN expansion. “This further demonstrates the need for secure energy to supplement renewables as we work toward a cleaner energy future.”
It’s a contention disputed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office filed a motion to intervene and oppose the expansion in August 2022. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and California Attorney General Rob Bonta have joined the motion.
Ferguson says the expansion is not needed due to Washington’s recent efforts to address climate change, and disputes TC Energy’s claim the added capacity is required to meet increased market demands for natural gas in the state. The added capacity would negatively impact Washington’s efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and would “emit approximately 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year for at least the next 30 years” — the equivalent of adding 754,000 cars to the roadways each year until 2052.
FERC in its project EIS acknowledges similar environmental impacts, noting “in subsequent years, Project operations and downstream emissions could result in the release of 3.24 million metric tons of CO2.” These impacts are not part of the commission’s approval process.
Ferguson lists a number of steps the state has taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and address climate change. Among those are requiring all retail electricity sales to utility customers to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030 and restricting the use of methane or other fossil fuels for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for new buildings beginning July 2.
Ferguson also points to studies indicating impacts of environmental problems and climate change most negatively impact people of color and low-income communities. The motion notes “there are vulnerable communities in the area of GTN’s compressor station in Starbuck,” migrant worker and low-income communities at higher risk from the environmental effects.
Impacts to these communities are among the many concerns Earth Ministry Board member and Spokane-resident Naghmana Sherazi has about the GTN expansion. More and more, religious denominations are addressing climate change, raising awareness about the issue but also speaking in opposition to projects and policies that don’t address environmental impacts.
Religious denominations approach is about social justice — impacts these projects have on marginalized communities often without a voice — but also of stewardship in that the planet’s resources are there to be carried for and used in a sustainable and fair manner.
“As a Muslim, working with people of color, these are my friends,” Sherazi, who is also Climate Justice Program Director at The Lands Council, said. “The Quran teaches God put us on the Earth, made us into tribes to better learn and interact with each other.”
She added that learning about social issues and the environment is important “because they’re all connected.” They’re also important because our actions reflect on our character as a people.
“You will be judged on the Judgement Day if you didn’t spread and seek knowledge,” Sherazi said. “We all must care for our environment.”
GTN pipeline opponents have also raised concerns about the age of the existing pipeline. In comments forwarded by Earth Ministry, Columbia Riverkeeper questions TC Energy’s assertion that the pipeline has been upgraded, contending what they call “upgrades” are more like maintenance, with six different, short sections of pipe being replaced at various locations between 2018 – 2022.
“TC Energy’s safety track record calls into question whether their actions are enough,” Columbia Riverkeeper officials said. “They claimed Keystone was safe, after all, and it’s much younger.”
In a CNN report, a massive spill of the Keystone Pipeline in December 2022 near the Kansas-Nebraska border was attributed to bending stress on a pipe and a faulty weld. The spill leaked the equivalent of 540,000 gallons of oil.
More information about the GTN pipeline expansion and Monday’s People’s Hearing is available online at 350Spokane. Comments can also be made to FERC.
This story has been republished with permission from SpokaneFāVS, a nonprofit news outlet focused on faith and values news in the Inland Northwest.