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Vigil to Be Held Nov. 5 in Opposition to GTN Pipeline Expansion

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Vigil to Be Held Nov. 5 in Opposition to GTN Pipeline Expansion

News Story by John McCallum | FaVsNews

Opponents of a pipeline capacity expansion are planning a “Vigil for Community Safety” this Sunday, Nov. 5, from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Spokane.

The pipeline brings natural gas from Canada through populated areas of eastern Spokane County and then south, passing near the Snake and Columbia rivers on its way to California.

Earth Ministry advocacy manager Sarah Robinson, one of the organizations opposing the pipeline, said the vigil will involve participants holding candles and creating circles to draw awareness to the increasing dangers these pipelines present to communities.

The circles will create “a space for grief” while also calling on accountability from community leaders to protect residents from harm.

“We’re living through changes, but we are also part of change and it matters to our community,” Robinson said.

The Pipeline’s Expansion Approved

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the capacity expansion application by Gas Transmission Pipeline (GTN) at its Oct. 19 meeting.

The expansion will allow GTN — a Delaware-based limited liability company and whose parent company is TC Energy — owners of the controversial Keystone Pipeline — to pump an additional 150 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. The gas will travel from from Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) fields in British Columbia through the 62-year-old pipeline to customers in Washington, Oregon and California.

The Attorneys General of Washington, Oregon and California filed a motion to intervene and halt the pipeline expansion in August 2022. They are joined by a number of regional environmental and social justice organizations such as Washington Physicians for Social ResponsibilityColumbia RiverkeeperRogue Climate and Earth Ministry, along with the governors and senators from Washington and Oregon.

“FERC failed to listen to Senators, Governors, State Attorneys General, Tribes, and the public in its rubber stamp of unnecessary fracked gas in the Northwest,” said Audrey Leonard, staff attorney of Columbia Riverkeeper, in a news release.

“The Commission’s decision violates the public interest and common sense, and we will file a petition for rehearing challenging this project,” Leonard said. “Since the analysis for this project was published, two major TC Energy pipelines have failed, causing safety hazards and spilling fossil fuel. If this were to happen in dry, rural, fire-prone lands or in the residential areas where TC Energy’s GTN pipeline is located, it would be catastrophic.”

Natural Gas Market Increasing

The GTN Xpress Project — part of a $335 million expansion of GTN’s system announced in November 2019 — is projected to increase capacity that will “generate approximately $25 million in revenue annually when fully in service,” according to a GTN news release.

TC Energy officials cite a growing market need for natural gas as well as new market access in the Pacific Northwest as a reason for expanding the GTN pipeline capacity. The project is supported by a number of regional gas utility companies and the state of Idaho.

Three-quarters of the project cost involves increasing pumping capacity of existing gas-fired turbine compressors via software upgrades at three compressor stations: Athol, Idaho; Starbuck, Walla Walla County, Washington, and Kent in Sherman County, Oregon.

Each of the 14,300 horsepower compressors will be upgraded to 23,470 horsepower, with a new 23,470 horsepower compressor installed at the Starbuck station.

GTN Pipeline

The Pipeline’s Location

GTN operates 612 miles of the 1,377-mile-long pipeline from Kingsgate, Idaho, to Malin, Oregon. The pipeline is capable of transporting up to 2.7 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

GTN is one of eight corporate entities that operate natural gas pipelines in Spokane County. GTN’s pipeline passes through eastern Spokane County, including near residences, businesses and a large apartment complex in north Liberty Lake near Harvard Road and Mission Avenue.

It continues south under Interstate 90, passing east of Ridgeline High School and near residences in southeast Spokane Valley and unincorporated parts of the county.

The Opposition

In statements released after FERC’s approval, organizations such as Columbia Riverkeeper and Rogue Climate announced their intentions to appeal through a Petition for Rehearing. Robinson of Earth Ministry said more pipeline companies are proposing expansion projects of existing networks rather than building new pipelines.

“There aren’t as many hurdles for expanding an existing pipeline,” she said, adding the risk from these pipelines stem not only from accidents such as ruptures from internal pressures or faults. Should a natural gas pipeline rupture during a natural or manmade disaster, it would make the latter worse.

“There are so many things that could be prevented here,” she said of limiting expansion.

Robinson also said FERC is “supposed to be neutral” in making its decisions on these projects. In their 79-page decision issued Oct. 23, the commission addressed a number of environmental, social justice, economic impacts. They also brought up the fact states, such as Washington, are enacting legislation to reduce the need for and use of fuels such as natural gas.

In addressing the latter, the commission noted its role under the Natural Gas Act is to decide “whether to adopt an applicant’s proposal and, if so, to what degree, not to engage in resource planning for energy end users.”

The commission also noted that it was satisfied with procedures GTN proposed taking to protect communities and the environment from construction impacts.

The Vigil

Robinson said Sunday’s vigil will also feature remarks from area leaders and representatives of the various organizations opposed to the GTN Xpress pipeline. There will also be discussion about the next steps in appealing the ruling.

The vigil at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 316 E. 24th Ave., will be an outside event taking place on the day people turn their clocks back one hour from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.

John McCallum
John McCallum
John McCallum is a freelance writer living in Liberty Lake. A graduate of Eastern Washington University with degrees in Journalism and Radio-Television, John spent 21 years at the Cheney Free Press as an award-winning staff reporter, editor, managing editor and photojournalist covering everything from government to education, sports, religion and current affairs. He is a member of Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church and has served as a church leader on session and participated in worship through a variety of roles. He has made six mission trips to Guatemala as a member of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Guatemala Task Force. John enjoys time with his wife, Sheila, and their Dachshund, Chili, road trips — especially the Oregon Coast — along with running, biking and kayaking.

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