COOS BAY — On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association issued a final biological opinion on the construction and operation of the Jordan Cove Energy terminal in Coos Bay and the associated 229-mile-long Pacific Connector Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline, deeming that the project's proposed actions do not jeopardize protected species or adversely modify their critical habitat.
NOAA began its biological determination after receiving the Final Environmental Impact Statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Within FERC’s EIS, there is a biological assessment that needs to be reviewed by NOAA, with NOAA reporting its findings back to FERC as part of the permitting process.
“We then consider that assessment based on our knowledge of the area and make site visits if necessary to verify it,” NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein said. Then we bring the latest and best available science on the affected species and weigh the impacts against that to determine whether they are affected, and if so, to what degree, for how long, and over what area. Based on that, we judge whether the project jeopardizes the species or its likelihood of recovery.”
The biological opinion fulfills requirements under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, known as FAST-41, and Executive Order 13807, which sets a goal of speeding environmental reviews.
According to NOAA, its biological opinion considered the effects of construction and operation of the terminal and pipeline on 17 species listed under the Endangered Species Act and their critical habitats. NOAA Fisheries determined that because impacts on the species and their habitats would occur only in the short-term or on small scales, the proposed actions do not jeopardize these species.
“We certainly found that there will be some significant impacts in places, there’s no getting around that," Milstein said. "Given that it’s a relatively short-term duration and in limited areas, and as far as the pipeline goes spread out over a large area, they’re not going to jeopardize the recovery of the species."
Some of the 17 affected species considered in this determination include whales, sea turtles, salmon and other fish species.
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“Between species, like for the marine mammals, we looked at things like ship collision potentials, oil spills and things like that. For coho salmon, they looked at habitat impacts both in the rivers and in surrounding areas, like road building that could potentially cause erosion that could run into the streams,” Milstein said.
NOAA said that the Pembina Pipeline Corporation is committed to important best management practices that would reduce effects on listed species, and proposed mitigation measures that will benefit species in the long term.
NOAA cites that these long-term benefits will stem from the mitigation plans that the company has proposed alongside its energy project, including restoration of at least 72 acres of tidelands and the relocation of 2.7 acres of eelgrass habitat.
Additional measures would restore and improve freshwater habitat at 60 sites along the pipeline route, including placement of large wood in streams, riparian vegetation planting and fencing, fish passage improvement and road improvements that will reduce delivery of fine sediment to streams.
If the project is approved, NOAA will be one of a number of agencies that will be overseeing the project. If anything turns out differently than expected during the construction and mitigation process, NOAA can reinitiate consultation and require stricter measures be taken to ensure endangered species and habitats are protected.
The pipeline would connect the terminal to other major pipelines in the West, linking it to gas supplies across the United States and Canada. The terminal in Coos Bay would be capable of liquefying up to 1.04 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day for export to markets around the world.