Op-Ed: The New Landscape for Fighting Fossil Fuel Infrastructure 

poster to stop pipeline expansion
Columbia Riverkeeper
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By Audrey Leonard, Staff Attorney, Columbia Riverkeeper

For more than 20 years, Columbia Riverkeeper has fought dirty fossil fuel infrastructure — and won. Together with firefighters, fishers, foresters, farmers, health professionals, educators, union leaders, and tribes, we stopped more than a dozen proposed fossil fuel facilities, ranging from coal exports to LNG terminals. 

Because of our success, the fossil fuel industry has begun trying to expand existing infrastructure rather than build new facilities. What’s the difference? Existing infrastructure typically has some of the required permits, and regulators generally approve capacity expansions even where they might reject a new project. Industry often disguises expansion projects with terms like “reliability,” and without effective public notice. In many ways, halting a brand-new oil refinery is much easier than stopping an existing refinery from producing more oil. 

In a changed landscape, watchdogs and advocates must adapt quickly to keep fossil fuels in the ground and out of our communities. 

GTN Xpress Fracked Gas Expansion 

A prime example is GTN Xpress — a proposal to increase the quantity of fracked gas flowing through the 1,354-mile interstate Gas Transmission Northwest (GTN) pipeline. The project would push more fracked gas through the existing pipeline by upgrading three existing compressor stations. Compressor stations are fracked gas-powered industrial facilities that control how much gas moves through the pipeline. More power and higher pressure means more gas flowing through the GTN pipeline. 

Why is this a big deal? The amount of gas this would add to the pipeline would result in more than 3.47 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year — that’s the equivalent of adding 754,000 cars to the road every year! Not only is GTN Xpress bad for the climate, it’s also a dirty deal for ratepayers and communities near the pipeline. If completed, ratepayers will be stuck fronting the bill for this expensive infrastructure upgrade. Nearby communities will see increased air pollution from the compressor stations, as well as face a heightened risk of explosion and fires in the event of an accident. 

The company responsible for GTN Xpress is the same company behind the Keystone XL pipeline and the Keystone pipeline: TC Energy. Its goal? Pump more fracked gas into the Pacific Northwest, an area rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. Thankfully, Columbia Riverkeeper sounded the alarm early, and the project now faces a groundswell of opposition. 

So far, more than 50 local and national organizations ranging from grassroots environmental groups to health professionals have opposed GTN Xpress. On top of that, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, the Attorneys General of Washington, Oregon, and California, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee, and State Representatives from Washington and Oregon have all urged the federal agency to deny the project. 

What’s next? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will approve or deny GTN Xpress as early as June 15, 2023. We’re working to give FERC compelling reasons to deny the project and prevent harm to the climate and our communities. 

GTN Xpress isn’t the only example of fossil fuel infrastructure expansion. We’ve seen this in the context of oil-by-rail terminals like Zenith and Global Partners, where old facilities were bought and re-purposed by new owners. These are some of the toughest fossil fuel projects to stop. But Columbia Riverkeeper is nimble and creative — we track project proposals and come up with effective strategies to fight back. 

We can’t do this ever-evolving work without support. 

Oppose Gas Pipeline Expansion: Tell FERC No! Speak out in opposition to increasing the Pacific Northwest’s reliance on fracked gas. Act now!

Audrey Leonard (she/her) focuses on protecting the Columbia from fracked gas, oil-by-rail, and other fossil fuel infrastructure. A Midwesterner at heart, Audrey grew up on a farm in rural Indiana and strives to use that background to meet the unique challenges faced by people in rural areas.

She fell in love with the Pacific Northwest while attending Lewis & Clark Law School, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Law, volunteered for the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and worked for Earthrise Law Center. Audrey was previously a legal fellow for the Center for Food Safety, doing federal environmental litigation to fight the harms of industrial agriculture.

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