Nominees like idea of gas export via Oregon

Both promise open minds in the decision

Two nominees to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday voiced general support for liquefied natural gas exports while also promising to listen to all sides when it comes to considering any specific project.

Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson made the comments at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on their nominations by President Trump to fill the FERC openings. The committee will vote on their nominations later.

FERC last year turned down the Jordan Cove gas export project in Oregon, which project proponents say could provide a stable, long-term outlet for gas drilled in western Colorado. However, Veresen Inc., the Canadian company behind Jordan Cove, is working on refiling its project proposal with FERC.

FERC currently lacks a quorum, with only two of five commissioner seats filled. One of the remaining commissioners has decided not to seek another term.

Chatterjee is currently energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Powelson is a public utility commissioner in Pennsylvania and is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Jordan Cove supporter Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., asked the two about their views on LNG exports in general, saying he recognized they probably couldn’t speak specifically about Jordan Cove.

Chatterjee confirmed that he has been advised that he can’t speak to any specific matter that might come before the commission.

“But I do think that permitting LNG facilities is an important part of FERC’s role and it is a responsibility that I would take seriously,” he said.

“… While I certainly would look to try and get these projects sited, I would also be certain to hear feedback from all sides of the issues and make the most responsible decision I could,” he said.

Powelson also indicated that public input and the stakeholder process are important.

“People have to have peace of mind that there’s transparency in that process,” he said.

He also said, “Exporting, in my view … creates geopolitical upsides for the U.S.”

As an example, he said there’s a need in Chile for gas that country doesn’t have as it tries to decarbonize its energy supply. He said such opportunities are there for the United States “if we do it right.”

Chatterjee and Powelson also addressed gas exports when asked by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, about a project there to seek an outlet for what she called “stranded gas.”

Said Chatterjee, “Certainly I believe in the states and local communities seeking projects that are in their interests and would be supportive of projects that enable us to utilize our domestic energy resources.”

But he said he would strive to hear out stakeholders on all sides of such issues.

Said Powelson, “As these projects develop I want to be fair and balanced, look at the record and obviously the business case. As you know, we won’t build these projects on speculation.”

He said the business situation has changed over the last decade as domestic gas production has soared.

“Today we are moving forward toward really dominating the international landscape with export opportunities,” he said.

FERC previously found the business case for Jordan Cove not to be strong enough. FERC rejected the project based on the argument that it lacked the commitments from LNG buyers for a project in which many landowners in Oregon would face condemnation proceedings for a pipeline that would serve Jordan Cove.

Veresen is refiling with FERC based on the argument that it has subsequently found buyers for much of the project capacity and has continued to work with landowners to gain pipeline easements.

Voters in Coos County, Oregon, recently overwhelmingly rejected a measure that sought to prevent the Jordan Cove project from going forward.

Thursday’s hearing was interrupted at times by protesters, some of whom demanded, “Shut FERC down!”

In a news release, David Turnbull of Oil Change International, a group seeking a shift from fossil fuels, criticized Chatterjee’s and Powelson’s track records and said about Thursday’s hearing, “While renewable energy was discussed, many senators preferred to do the bidding of interests in their states pushing nuclear power, LNG export and other natural gas infrastructure.

Both nominees and senators alike appeared oblivious to the fact that gas is as dirty as coal and that significantly increasing gas reliance through new pipelines and liquefied natural gas export facilities is incompatible with a stable climate.”

McConnell appeared at the hearing to say Chatterjee would “make a great addition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” and praised him for finding common ground on issues in a bipartisan fashion.

“He’s got the right attitude when it comes to thoughtfully hearing all sides of an argument,” McConnell said.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said Powelson has established himself as a national leader on energy policy and electricity markets, and “will certainly provide the FERC with a wealth of knowledge and experience.”


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