Stop North Idaho’s Keystone XL Pipeline!

0 GTN Idaho Map 1

GTN Xpress Gas Pipeline Expansion

Residents of the Northwest and Turtle Island continent continue to experience the extreme, worsening heat, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods caused by fossil-fueled climate change.  But Canadian energy company TC Energy (formerly TransCanada), owner of the notoriously leaky Keystone tar sands pipeline, partially completed but unpermitted Keystone XL pipeline, and new Coastal GasLink line invading unceded indigenous lands in British Columbia (B.C.), expects the public not to notice its plans to stealthily expand its 1,353-mile-long Gas Transmission Northwest (GTN) pipeline across north Idaho, eastern Washington, and central Oregon [1-5].

The GTN Xpress project would dangerously increase “natural” gas volumes by 150 million to 250 million cubic feet per day, in its 61-year-old pipeline system.  GTN transports gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” from the prolific West Canadian Sedimentary Basin and Rocky Mountain fields of northeast British Columbia and Alberta.  It connects with the Foothills and Nova Gas Transmission pipelines in Canada near Kingsgate, B.C., crosses the U.S. border at Eastport, Idaho, and terminates in Malin, Oregon, where it flows into the Tuscarora pipeline in northern California.  In north Idaho, the climate-wrecking, potentially explosive GTN pipeline traverses the Moyie Valley, Bonners Ferry, and the Highway 95 corridor, close and parallel to railroad lines.  GTN passes under a Schweitzer Mountain ski resort parking lot and West Pine Street in Sandpoint, and below the Pend Oreille River near Dover, downstream from Idaho’s largest, deepest lake.  From Malin in southern Oregon, the controversial Pacific Connector pipeline would have carried feedstock gas out to the coastal Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Coos Bay.  But a decade-plus of broad public opposition and regulatory hurdles overcame both boondoggles.

Through a compression-only expansion of the GTN system, GTN Xpress would software-upgrade the capacity and pressure of the gas-fired turbine compressor at the Athol, Idaho, pump station 5, from 14,300 to 23,470 horsepower.  Although the Athol station is located at 2244 East Seasons Road in Kootenai County, a dispatch center in Portland, Oregon, remotely controls it and 11 other compressor stations, numbered 3 through 14, which move gas along the U.S. part of the pipeline.  The facility stands just two miles west-northwest of the popular Silverwood Theme Park, full of hundreds of visitors on precarious rides during spring, summer, and fall days.  Installing new equipment and improving an access road at two Washington and Oregon compressor stations and along the pipeline, the GTN Xpress project would push an additional 250,000 dekatherms of gas per day out to smaller, linked pipelines and markets in Washington, Oregon, and California.  As one dekatherm provides enough gas for five average-sized (over-large) homes, new GTN Xpress infrastructure and gas volumes would force 1.2 million households to use fossil fuels for at least another 30 years.

Excess Gas & Northwest Energy Transitions

In its October 2021 application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), seeking a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the GTN Xpress project, TC Energy claims that “increased market demand driven by residential, commercial, and industrial customers in the Pacific Northwest” justifies aged GTN pipeline expansion, and that “the benefits of GTN’s proposed project far outweigh its potential adverse impacts” [6].  These plans prompted FERC to prepare a draft, federal, environmental impact statement (EIS) currently undergoing public scrutiny and input [7-9].  Although TC Energy has urged FERC to approve the project with a final EIS by October 14, 2022, and to authorize it by the 90-day federal deadline of January 12, 2023, company and agency staff must first prove to the commission that Americans, not just Idahoans and Northwesterners, need this pipeline expansion, and that GTN Xpress would benefit public interests.  As FERC called for draft EIS scoping comments on the project in February 2022, it also updated its policies guiding decisions on natural gas projects, allowing the agency to more thoroughly consider a proposal’s contributions to climate change and potential impacts on landowners and environmental justice [10].

The GTN pipeline currently pumps about 1,000 billion cubic feet of gas per year across the Northwest [4].  With Washington annually consuming 378 billion cubic feet per year and Oregon using 302 billion cubic feet per year, existing GTN capacity exceeds gas demand in these states by 32 percent, not counting gas that flows south to California markets.  Together, all three West Coast states have decreased their net gas consumption by 61.5 billion cubic feet per year between 2015 and 2019.  Excess pipeline capacity and declining regional gas demand discredit TC Energy arguments for expanding GTN gas volumes by 250 million cubic feet per day, to meet rising, regional, energy demands.

Over the last decade, Northwest communities have been wisely and victoriously opposing new and expanded coal, oil, and gas power plants, petrochemical facilities, and export terminals, while reducing fossil fuels reliance and climate pollution and choosing renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.  Washington passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act in 2019, which commits the state to electricity generation free of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.  Oregon signed legislation in 2021 that requires the state’s electric grid to operate completely without fossil fuels by 2040, the most assertive transition toward sustainable energy in the nation.  State agencies and public utility commissions in both states are studying and implementing ways to generate electricity and moderate building temperatures beyond increasingly obsolete natural gas, including state and city bans of gas in new commercial buildings.  Eliminating gas usage for electricity generation and residential buildings would decrease the gas demand of Oregon and Washington by one third.

Long-term contracts currently subscribe over 50 percent of the GTN pipeline’s average design capacity of 2,900 million cubic feet per day, but the majority of them mature between 2023 and 2028.  Impeding achievement of state decarbonization goals and intending to pump fracked gas through the region past 2050, TC Energy has already signed 30-year contracts for GTN Xpress with Canadian gas extraction ventures and Northwest gas utilities.  As GTN Xpress’ surplus gas supply meets existing and inevitable, significantly decreasing demand below projected project levels, TC Energy could ultimately abandon the project and/or receive government permission to raise the gas rates of its fewer future customers.

Hidden Plans & Piecemeal Permits

Due to public pressure, TC Energy has failed to complete construction of the famous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada into the United States.  Along with Canadian and B.C. governments, the corporation is currently facing fierce resistance from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, their accomplices, and a United Nations racial discrimination committee, for building the Coastal GasLink pipeline to a new, coastal B.C., LNG export facility and for mistreating pipeline opponents.  Amid such intensifying public outcry over new oil, gas, and coal infrastructure construction projects, TC Energy and the dying fossil fuels industry, peddling their increasingly stranded assets, are instead strategically pursuing quieter, gradual expansions and extensions of their already numerous existing facilities and pipeline corridors, maneuvers more readily accepted by regulators and consumer markets.  Besides GTN Xpress, TC Energy is also currently promoting the billion-dollar expansion of its Nova Gas Transmission Line and Foothills pipeline systems that supply GTN in Canada.

Instead of the purportedly growing Northwest market demand for Canadian fracked gas, TC Energy seems mostly motivated by ongoing and/or increasing, supply-side, extraction and production ambitions and desires to outcompete and displace other Northwest gas suppliers.  For example, Williams’ Northwest pipeline, the most extensive, regional, gas pipeline network, crosses west from Wyoming under the southern Idaho Snake River plain and western Palouse region [11].  It receives some gas from a half-dozen drilled, active, and riverside wells in Payette County, Idaho.  Kinder Morgan, the corporation that sold the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline to Canada, runs the Ruby gas pipeline from southwest Wyoming, across northern Utah and Nevada, and west to Malin, Oregon, in the same terminus vicinity as GTN.  Both pipelines presumably could have pumped gas into the proposed Pacific Connector pipeline traversing southern Oregon to the defeated Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Coos Bay.

Perhaps to more easily secure project approval, TC Energy is attempting to conceal the full scope and true scale of its GTN Xpress plans from FERC regulators and Northwest residents.  Despite publicly stating in 2019 its intentions to expand the pipeline by 250 million cubic feet per day, the company has only filed a request to FERC for increased volumes of 150 million cubic feet per day.  It is also filing multiple individual applications for compressor station modifications, instead of one expansion plan for the entire GTN system.  This devious industry approach to creeping expansion not only dupes pipeline corridor communities, by pretending to advance public interests, while actually reinforcing destructive practices and toxic products.  It also schemes to obscure from FERC the extent and environmental impacts of the project, and handicaps the agency’s abilities to review, assess, and understand the public health and environmental consequences of GTN Xpress, which federal law requires FERC to deliberate.

Climate & Environmental Impacts

Extraction, production, transportation, and storage of natural gas routinely release greenhouse gases, especially methane, the primary component of natural gas, which is eighty times more potent to atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide [12].  Gas combustion not only releases carbon dioxide but also nitrogen dioxide that is harmful to human health.  A 2013 meta-analysis of 41 studies showed that children living in homes with gas stoves face a 42 percent increase in asthma symptoms [4].  Other investigations have linked the industry practice of fracking to extensive water and environmental degradation, low human birth weights, and disregard for indigenous treaty rights.

GTN Xpress would exacerbate the levels of carbon dioxide and methane that GTN’s regular operations already emit from fracked gas into the atmosphere every year, threatening public and environmental health and safety with further climate disruption.  If TC Energy fills its expanded GTN capacity, it would annually release at least an additional six million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than any other polluter in Washington, except the soon retired TransAlta coal power plant in Centralia [4].  In the state with the fifth highest oil refining capacity, the yearly, upstream and downstream, greenhouse gas emissions of GTN Xpress would exceed the climate-wrecking pollution of each of the five Salish Sea oil refineries: Marathon and HollyFrontier (formerly Shell) in Anacortes, BP in Cherry Point, Phillips 66 in Ferndale, and U.S. Oil in Tacoma.

Despite recommendations to FERC environmental staff from the cooperating U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during draft EIS preparation, FERC has concluded that modifying and installing GTN Xpress facilities would result in only minimal or temporary, adverse impacts on the environment, because changes would occur within or abutting fenced compressor station boundaries.  FERC personnel advocate for project approval and suggest mitigation measures to avoid and reduce environmental impacts, as conditions to potential commission authorization of the project.  FERC “staff concludes that project impacts on the environment would not be significant” [8, 9].  In the draft EIS, they have also characterized GTN Xpress’s climate change effects as neither significant nor insignificant.

During the last ten years, the six-decade-old GTN pipeline has imposed three major incidents, two in Idaho, from mechanical errors that resulted in unintentional releases of gas and $1.15 million in combined damages, thankfully without fires, explosions, injuries, or fatalities [13-16].  According to Fractracker Alliance and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, GTN started leaking 20.5 million cubic feet of gas in Eastport, Idaho, at 5 pm on May 31, 2012, when a communications failure within a programmable logic controller at pump station 3 prompted an emergency shutdown [16].  Twenty-year-old station valves immediately attempted to go to fail-safe positions, and were not discovered in these conditions, luckily without overpressure, until 9:30 am on the next morning, June 1.

Within the next two years, two other hazardous GTN malfunctions occurred.  On March 13, 2013, a LaCrosse, Washington, landowner reported an area of dead vegetation over the pipeline [16].  GTN personnel detected gas in a probe hole over the pipeline, but not in the air above ground, so they isolated and reduced pressure in the pipeline section.  They found that failure of coupling equipment and connections had caused underground drain lines, installed in 1992, to leak 52.6 million cubic feet of gas.  And on March 11, 2014, a ground-based leakage survey revealed a bottom dent in underground pipe buried in 1961, which caused the GTN pipeline to spew 29.3 million cubic feet of gas only 447 feet upstream of a mainline valve in Moyie Springs, Idaho [16].

Regional Coalition Responses

Columbia Riverkeeper and a dozen allied organizations, including climate activist collective Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), have been closely tracking this FERC process, sending comments to the commission, and encouraging resistance to GTN Xpress among the north Idaho and Northwest community since late 2021, through information research, compilation, and sharing via email messages, website and social media posts, and radio and webinar discussions [1, 17-19].  From February 2 through August 17, 2022, WIRT has covered the issue ten times on the weekly Climate Justice Forum radio program, broadcast every Wednesday between 1:30 and 3 pm Pacific time, on-air at 90.3 FM and online, by progressive community station KRFP Radio Free Moscow [20].

Because WIRT is based in an area where even liberals are conservative, GTN Xpress resisters have struggled to alert the public and connect with other Northwest groups opposing this fossil fuel infrastructure and transportation expansion.  After subsequent delay by too few overwhelmed volunteers, WIRT and partner organizations intend to fight this largest Northwest pipeline proposal in decades with renewed vigor and interactions.  Thanks to lively conversations that brainstormed ideas, WIRT and regional grassroots groups are creating outreach materials denouncing GTN Xpress, strategizing and arranging postponed, summer demonstrations at several locations along the pipeline route, and coordinating various aspects of these actions, such as event notices, protest signs and equipment, carpools, etc.

Your Urgent Participation

On June 30, 2022, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff released the draft environmental impact statement for Gas Transmission Northwest’s Xpress pipeline expansion project [8, 9].  By August 22, please join Wild Idaho Rising Tide and allied activists in these efforts:

1) Send a comment electronically to FERC, asking the commission to accept your remarks as part of the public record for Docket No. CP22-2-000, and describing the flaws of its draft EIS for GTN Xpress [21].  Encourage FERC to revise its analyses of the project’s environmental and socioeconomic effects and to strongly re-consider these project aspects, as required by federal regulations:

a. Request TC Energy disclosure of the full scope and scale of its proposed project.

b. Evaluate the project’s impacts on indigenous people, tribal nations, communities disproportionately affected by the gas industry and climate crises, and environmental justice concerns.

c. Consider the local public health and environmental impacts of expanded compressor stations and gas extraction associated with the proposal.

d. Weigh the public health and safety risks and long-term harms of increased reliance on fracked gas imposed by the project.

e. Examine project impediments to implementing Oregon and Washington legislative mandates to replace fossil fuel-generated electricity with clean energy options.

f. Re-assess the climate implications and other wide-ranging effects of the proposal’s increase of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

g. Deliberate whether this short-sighted GTN expansion enhances public interests.

2) With your comment, request FERC presentations and public hearings in affected communities and especially a 30-day extension of the draft EIS comment period, raising concerns about FERC not contacting and consulting tribal and local government and other stakeholders, limited citizen access to this federal process and documents due to summer vacations, difficult rural internet connections, and the ongoing pandemic that is still afflicting family members, and recent staff reorganizations by lead legal groups of a Northwest coalition emerging around this issue.

3) In your remarks, recommend that FERC select the “no action” alternative of the draft EIS, not approve a GTN Xpress certificate of public convenience and necessity, and ultimately reject this desperate, TC Energy grasp at energy profiteering, at the expense of a livable Earth, a fossil fuels expansion project clearly contrary to best public interests.

4) Sign and share the online, Columbia Riverkeeper petition to FERC, and help gather signatures via text, email, and social media [22].

5) Write a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local newspapers, by accessing composition and submission guides, sample templates, and regional LTE contact information, provided by Columbia Riverkeeper and Wild Idaho Rising Tide [23, 24].

6) Show support for this campaign against GTN Xpress, by prompting more public comments and actions, petition signatures, LTEs, and news stories, through your community and social media networks.

WIRT will continue to provide further information assisting public comments, encouraging participation in upcoming protests and other activities, and building the momentum of direct resistance to the GTN Xpress gas pipeline expansion scheme.  Thanks for stopping GTN Xpress and all new or expanded fossil fuels infrastructure in Idaho and the Northwest!

[1] Inside Scoop on Latest Fracked Gas Threat, January 26, 2022 Columbia Riverkeeper

[2] Pipeline Expansion Would Increase the Flow of Natural Gas through the Northwest, February 20, 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting

[3] Not Another Fracked Gas Pipeline Expansion! March 14, 2022 KBOO Locus Focus

[4] The Pipeline Giant Behind Keystone XL Wants to Expand a Major Fracked Gas Pipeline in Cascadia, June 15, 2022 Sightline Institute

[5] GTN Xpress Webinar, August 10, 2022 Columbia Riverkeeper

[6] Abbreviated Application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the GTN Xpress Project of Gas Transmission Northwest LLC under CP22-2, October 4, 2021 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

[7] Gas Transmission Northwest LLC; Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed GTN Xpress Project Request for Comments on Environmental Issues, and Schedule for Environmental Review, January 28, 2022 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Federal Register

[8] Staff Issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Gas Transmission Northwest LLC’s GTN Xpress Project, June 30, 2022 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

[9] Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Gas Transmission Northwest LLC’s GTN Xpress Project under CP22-2, June 30, 2022 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

[10] FERC Updates Policies to Guide Natural Gas Project Certifications, February 17, 2022 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

[11] While WIRT encourages resistance of other fossil fuels pipelines…, November 21, 2019 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[12] Methane Leaks Erase Some of the Climate Benefits of Natural Gas, May 5, 2020 Scientific American

[13] Distribution, Transmission and Gathering, LNG, and Liquid Accident and Incident Data, U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

[14] Pipelines Continue to Catch Fire and Explode, February 21, 2020 Fractracker Alliance

[15] 2021 Pipeline Incidents Update: Safety Record Not Improving, April 14, 2021 Fractracker Alliance

[16] Pipeline Incidents: January 2010 to December 2019, Fractracker Alliance

[17] Webinar: 8/9, What is GTN Xpress Pipeline and How to Get Involved! August 9, 2022 Columbia Riverkeeper

[18] Oppose North Idaho’s Keystone XL Pipeline! June 20, 2022 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[19] #StopGTNXpress! Reject Climate-Wrecking Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Expansion! July 14, 2022 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[20] Category Archives: Climate Justice Forum, Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[21] How to File a Comment, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

[22] Take Action: Fracked Gas Pipeline, Columbia Riverkeeper

[23] GTN Xpress Pipeline Letters to the Editor Guide, August 8, 2022 Columbia Riverkeeper

[24] Speak Out! Wild Idaho Rising Tide

3 thoughts on “Stop North Idaho’s Keystone XL Pipeline!

  1. Pingback: Stop GTN Xpress Week of Actions | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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  3. Pingback: November 17-18 GTN Xpress Action, WIRT Talk, & FEIS Release | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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