Fracking adds heat to fight over

liquefied natural gas terminals

The expansion of "fracking" to extract natural gas from shale rock has altered the industry so dramatically that developers of two proposed Oregon natural gas import terminals did 180-degree flips - and now propose using them instead to export natural gas.

Environmentalists, property owners and coastal residents were already alarmed by the prospect of gas pipelines routed through sensitive lands to reach liquefied natural gas or LNG terminals in Coos Bay and Warrenton. Environmental controversies surrounding fracking have heightened those concerns.

"If LNG export terminals are established, that's going to provide a huge driver and incentive for increased fracking in the Mountain West," says Dan Serres, conservation director for

Columbia Riverkeeper. "The pressure is going to be enormous to keep drilling, and environmental concerns are pushed aside."

The environmental impacts of shipping natural gas to Asia via Oregon mirror the impacts of proposed Northwest coal export terminals, Serres says. "When you add up all these effects, it's hard to imagine that it's significantly better than coal," he says.

Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association, says Oregonians shouldn't be alarmed by proposed LNG terminals.

Right now, Kirschner says, depressed natural gas prices are not sustainable. Exporting a small portion of the nation's natural gas production, say 5 percent to 8 percent, would make it more profitable to produce the energy here, he says, and stabilize the industry.

But if natural gas exports drive up domestic prices, as is widely predicted, that could give environmentalists new allies from businesses in the fight over LNG.

- Steve Law

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