Fighting Fracked Gas at the Oregon Public Utility Commission

by Audrey Leonard, Staff Attorney

At Columbia Riverkeeper, we have to be nimble when advocating for energy and climate justice. That’s why we’ve developed creative strategies to engage with Oregon’s Public Utility Commission (PUC)—the agency that regulates Oregon’s gas and electric utilities. 

Earlier this year, this advocacy paid off when the PUC rejected all three of Oregon’s gas utilities’ long-term plans. The plans were inadequate because they were “unreasonably optimistic” about future gas demand as the region moves away from reliance on fracked gas and towards electrification. 

Columbia Riverkeeper joined a group of advocates that provided detailed recommendations to the PUC regarding Cascade Natural Gas’ long term plan. Cascade is one of three buyers of new gas coming into our region from the controversial GTN Xpress project—an unwise investment for ratepayers and the company itself. We raised this issue at the PUC, and explained why it’s important for regulators to be especially critical of gas utilities’ investments in expensive fracked gas infrastructure. 

The PUC agreed with us! At a hearing in March, the PUC referenced the potential risks associated with the GTN pipeline, comparing it to coal power plants. Read our joint press release here.

This good news in Oregon comes on the heels of a similar decision from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), where the UTC explicitly criticized Cascade’s justification for its GTN Xpress investment. The UTC ultimately rejected Cascade’s overall long-term plan due to flawed demand forecasting. Last year, Columbia Riverkeeper gathered and sent comments to the UTC about Cascade’s commitment to GTN Xpress. 

Utility Commission guidance is important to ensure that gas utilities are appropriately accounting for compliance with state climate and energy laws, and avoiding risky investments that could result in unnecessary burdens for ratepayers. 

What’s next at the PUC?

Columbia Riverkeeper joined a group of climate and social justice advocates in providing detailed objections to Northwest Natural’s latest proposed rate hike, which would allow investments to expand the gas system. We are represented by Earthjustice and the Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School in this proceeding. Learn more here. 

The fossil fuel industry takes every opportunity to weaken climate progress. Northwest Natural is no different, as evidenced by its litigation to invalidate Oregon’s Climate Protection Program. Together—with community members, ratepayers, and partner organizations—we will work to illuminate the gas industry’s hypocrisy and hold gas utilities accountable. 

Stay tuned for more updates on our work at the PUC! 

A fracked gas pipeline that threatens the Pacific Northwest

Stop the GTN Xpress Pipeline

GTN Xpress is a fossil fuel industry scheme to pump more fracked gas into an existing pipeline that cuts across the Northwest. Learn how it affects river communities, and how you can help in the fight against fracked gas.