Western Wire

Streamlining the federal permitting process and approving the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project were top priorities at a House Natural Resources Committee field hearing last week.

Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the committee chair, was hosted by Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District Rep. Scott Tipton at Colorado Mesa University.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese offered testimony to the committee acknowledging the economic opportunities embedded in the Jordan Cove project given its proximity to the Mancos Shale deposit in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado.

Pugliese said exploring the possibilities included research entitled “From the Piceance to the Pacific Rim,” “to explore ways to develop new markets for our region’s massive natural gas reserves.” The Jordan Cove project is an LNG export facility that would send natural gas from western Colorado to Coos Bay, Oregon, for international export.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report in 2016 that increased the estimate of technically recoverable natural gas in the Mancos Shale deposit from 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to 66.3 trillion, a forty-fold increase.

“This is a ‘game changer’ at more than 40 times the original estimate and one of the largest upward resource assessment revisions in the agency’s history,” Pugliese said. “This new information further dispels the myth that we are running out of natural gas in this country and strengthens the case that the United States needs to export LNG, which is why we need federal approval of the proposed Jordan Cove LNG facility and associated connector pipeline in Oregon.”

Pugliese offered praise for the project’s bipartisan backing, with Colorado’s elected officials helping to resurrect the project, which she argued would provide the region with 20 years of economic stability.

“The ability of Colorado’s bipartisan elected officials to lift Jordan Cove from the depths of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) regulatory purgatory and back onto Colorado’s pedestal of economic promise has demonstrated a strong, uniquely bipartisan political vision for Colorado’s strong energy future,” Pugliese said.

“With enough natural gas to power the state of California for 50 years right here in our backyard, the need for our community to join the global energy market place has never been more urgent,” David Ludlam, Executive Director of West Slope Oil and Gas Association, told the hearing, praising the clear, bipartisan support for the project in the West.

“This urgency, in fact, created the most diverse and bi-partisan energy coalition in the United States today. Indeed, the Piceance to the Pacific Rim Initiative, and its advocacy for West Coast Energy exports garnered a robust if not unlikely political coalition never before seen around an energy infrastructure project in Jordan Cove LNG.” Ludlam cited Tipton, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R), Governors John Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado and Gary Herbert (R) of Utah, the Colorado Senate, the Denver Post, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and “local governments in Western Colorado including Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Delta and many other counties and municipalities in our region.”

Demand for the LNG project stretches across Asia, according to Ludlam—including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, China and numerous others in the Caribbean and South America. He pointed to the project’s supporters, like Hickenlooper and Gardner, who have touted the project on their economic trips abroad for its potential for improving air quality and promoting energy security with key allies.

“We’re talking about American energy security, and part of that is, will we be able to sell the product that we produce?” Tipton told Western Wire. “If we’re looking at international security, to be able to deliver that to a friendly ally in Japan is critical because they no resources like this to be able to develop.”

The alternative, according to Tipton, is Russia.

“So for us, for our international concerns, to be able to create that stability, to bring jobs right here at home, it is essential that we do move this project forward,” Tipton said, calling Jordan Cove an opportunity for “multiple wins.”

State Primacy and Streamlining NEPA

Pugliese told Tipton and Bishop her community welcomed the opportunity to be heard at the committee field hearing, given that nearly three-fourths of the county she represents is federally-maintained public lands, and holds abundant energy resources.

“Mesa County is 72% federal lands. This means that the federal government controls our economy and the economies of many of our western Colorado counties,” Pugliese said. “Congress and our federal agencies have the power to determine if Mesa County and our neighboring counties have a strong and viable economy. You get to decide if we succeed or fail.” Reforms to “ease the federal regulatory burden on western Colorado natural gas development,” Pugliese argued, was critical for local economic development.

That includes permitting for projects like Jordan Cove, which face a raft of agency reviews and

“We need an efficient and rational permitting process, especially by agencies under your purview, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) and NOAA Fisheries,” Pugliese said. “The Trump Administration has done great work jumpstarting the permit streamlining process, but the reality is that federal agencies are under-staffed and overworked. Timely issuance of key permits requires these agencies to focus their limited resources on those projects that are most viable and will have the most impact, not only regionally, but from a national and international perspective.”

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“Reviewing processes is always important. Recognizing new technological advancements that are going to be in place and to make sure it shouldn’t be adversarial, we should be working in concert,” Tipton said.

“Every person I know wants things to be done in an environmentally safe way, but they also want to be able to turn on the lights, and have heat and cold in their homes,” said Tipton, adding he rejects the false choice some present when opposing streamlining and reform efforts of NEPA or the permitting process overall. Review of permitting should be an ongoing process, Tipton argued.

“It should not be an ‘either/or’ process, working with the states and the federal government is not eliminating environmental or oversight requirements,” Tipton continued. “Those who live there know the best.”

“If you’re going to get any kind of stable economic development, and the key word is stable, you’ve got to be able to have them go in there and do the research and get up into production,” Bishop told Western Wire, describing the need for oil and gas companies to be able to move through a streamlined and efficient permitting process, unencumbered by unnecessary backlogs and delays. Bishop said the regulatory red tape encountered by energy producers has led to a move away from federal lands in some areas towards state and private lands.

“If we can streamline that [permitting] so that they know where they can develop and be in production quickly, then we can develop a stable workforce. Right now, on public lands, it’s the fluctuation of the boom-and-bust cycle that depends solely on the price to motivate job creation. If price plus technological innovations and regulatory stability, then you can mitigate the boom-and-bust and have a more stable economic development process,” Bishop said, less dependent on political and policy shifts.

Bishop said NEPA has moved away from a process for allowing input and “morphed into a process to let people sue” projects they don’t like. “It doesn’t work, that’s not what [NEPA] was supposed to be,” Bishop said, criticizing what he has called “bad faith litigation.” “We’ve got to fix NEPA.”

Ludlam agreed on providing more stability through regulatory certainty, with sustainable reforms not subject to political headwinds.

“Finally, the current administration has moved to remedy the procedural roadblocks recently erected to stop energy development on Federal lands throughout the Rockies,” Ludlam said. “However, the political pendulum swing of the Executive Branch creates uncertainty around the length and sustainability of such reforms,” Ludlam added, stressing the necessity of having “on-the-ground certainty that minerals owned by the American people are accessible, affordable and produced in a consistent cost-effective way that creates lasting and permanent good for the nation and world.”

BLM Move

“I think Grand Junction is an excellent choice,” Tipton said with a smile, having jointly introduced legislation in 2017 calling for the BLM headquarters to be relocated to one of 12 Western states. “In terms of some of the conversations we’ve had with the Department of the Interior, they do have it in their budget to begin the process next year. It is going to be incumbent on us as a community and area to make sure that we are putting our best case forward and we have a case.”

Tipton described the region as a “strong” candidate, given locale and other factors like affordability and attractiveness that Zinke has told Congress are part of the selection criteria.

“It’s important for this primary purpose: this is where the public lands are at, so it would make sense to have that bureaucracy close to the very area it is to manage and be able to understand, and create a real win for our communities and the BLM as well,” Tipton concluded.

“I was skeptical at first,” Bishop said of the possible BLM move, agreeing with Tipton that those who live near public lands are the best stewards, but cautioning that the agency still needs to listen, echoing his own comments from last year.

“The reality is, they’re living in an area that understands these issues, and they don’t in Washington,” Bishop said.