Utility Regulators Should Resist Fracked Gas Expansion
Cascade Natural Gas is a Main Customer for TC Energy’s GTN Xpress Project
Years of community activism and public pressure have changed the landscape for fracked gas in the Northwest. Community organizing and advocacy have been instrumental in stopping major new gas terminals, power plants, and pipelines. For example, Oregon rejected the Pacific Connector pipeline, and Washington recently passed new rules to phase out gas in many types of buildings. These hard-won victories should decrease fracked gas use in the Northwest, but major fracked gas companies are trying to lock in more fossil gas anyway.
As activism has made new fracked gas pipelines harder to build, fracked gas pipeline companies are turning to a new tactic—pushing more gas through existing pipelines. Fossil fuel pipeline giant TC Energy is proposing to increase compression on its existing GTN pipeline, a project called GTN Xpress. TC Energy’s proposal would push more Canadian fracked gas through an aging pipeline despite objections from Oregon, Washington, and California. Oregon gas utility Cascade Natural Gas (Cascade) plans to be one of GTN Xpress’ main customers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will make a decision on the GTN Xpress project in 2023.
Before making a decision on the GTN Xpress project, FERC must determine whether the project is in the public interest, weighing the project’s negative impacts against the company’s claims about increased demand for gas. Washington and Oregon regulators have an opportunity to send a signal that GTN Xpress is not in the public interest by vetting Cascade’s plans to expand its fracked gas infrastructure.
New Report Calls Into Question Cascade Natural Gas’ Investment in GTN Xpress
In January 2023, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) released its final Gas Fact-Finding Report, an investigation into how Oregon’s gas utilities will meet Oregon’s greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals. Hundreds of Columbia Riverkeeper members weighed in on the draft of the report in July 2022. In the end, community input had a major impact on the report’s findings, highlighting the need to avoid investments in unnecessary gas expansion projects that saddle ratepayers with more costs. The final report contradicts the fracked gas industry’s case for GTN Xpress.
Here are some takeaways from the report and the impact of public involvement:
- The draft report was skewed towards industry-friendly approaches, like adding customers. After public pushback, the OPUC removed its expectation that gas utilities would mitigate impacts of a changing market by adding customers. Most importantly, the report put more emphasis on addressing low-income ratepayers' challenges first, potentially by transitioning away from gas altogether.
- The OPUC recommends third-party vetting of industry plans, a strong step for transparency and accountability.
- The OPUC staff expressed sharp skepticism of investments in any expanded gas infrastructure because the costs of increased pollution will fall on ratepayers. This was a key point raised by people across Oregon. The report specifically calls out Cascade's plans, stating that the utility must plan to achieve a “steadily declining trajectory of annual emissions,” a requirement of Oregon’s Climate Protection Program.
- The final report acknowledges that regional trends toward electrification could cause the gas system to shrink rather than expand as Cascade has suggested.
In summary, the OPUC’s final report calls into question Cascade Natural Gas’ decision to buy into the GTN Xpress project.
Oregon’s lead energy regulators have an important role to play in showing why the Northwest does not need GTN Xpress. Following up on the Fact-Finding Report, the OPUC will decide which costs Cascade Natural Gas can pass on to existing ratepayers. The OPUC requires the gas company to put forward a plan to meet customer needs without bilking ratepayers, and the OPUC can disapprove proposals that conflict with the interests of Northwest residents and the utility’s customers.
The OPUC should reject Cascade’s plans to have ratepayers pay for a major new gas expansion project at a time when states’ new laws and rules are working to reduce the Northwest’s reliance on fracked gas.
- Send an email urging the OPUC to push back on Cascade Natural Gas’ plans to expand fracked gas in the Northwest.
Already, communities across the Northwest are resisting the gas industry’s expansion plans. Hundreds of people participated in a recent People’s Hearing calling on FERC to deny GTN Xpress. (Video on youtube). Attorneys General from Oregon, Washington, and California have stated that TC Energy’s proposal poses environmental justice, wildfire, and health and safety concerns for frontline communities while increasing greenhouse gas emissions by over 3.4 million tons per year.
GTN Xpress is a bad plan. Oregon regulators can do their part to stop GTN Xpress by holding Cascade accountable.
Urge OPUC regulators to push back on Cascade Natural Gas’ plans to expand fracked gas in the Northwest.