Natural gas pipeline proposed for Whatcom County, again

Natural gas could move from Canada to Canada, by way of Whatcom County, through a proposed pipeline that mirrors a plan shelved a decade ago.

Williams pipeline company announced plans Sept. 1 for the “Island Gas Connector,” which would run natural gas from a plant near Sumas to Cherry Point. There, the pipeline would then run another 47 miles underwater to a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Vancouver Island, B.C.

The project was announced by Oklahoma-based Williams, which owns the Northwest Pipeline that already runs through Whatcom, and partner Steelhead LNG, a Vancouver, B.C.-based energy company.

The pipeline, as imagined by the company, could run near Lynden, through Custer and round the northwest side of the BP refinery on its way to Cherry Point, based on a map showing the not-yet-approved route the company would like to take. It would deliver natural gas to the proposed island plant to be converted into liquefied natural gas that could then be shipped by tanker.

Williams sent letters on Tuesday, Sept. 1, to Whatcom County property owners who could be affected, asking for permission to survey possible easements for the route on their land, said Michele Swaner, a Williams spokeswoman.

The company plans to do civil, environmental and geotechnical testing up to 200 feet on either side of existing easements if property owners give their permission to do so, Swaner said.

“It’s important to know if we don’t receive permission from them, we won’t go on their property,” Swaner said.

The pipeline is still in the very early planning stages, and the company does not plan to start the filing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until 2016.

No public meetings have been planned yet for Whatcom County, but there will be some in the future, Swaner said.

Old plan

Williams worked toward putting a natural gas pipeline through Whatcom County, along roughly the same route as sketched out for the current project, starting in 1999.

That project was called the Georgia Strait Crossing, and it prompted some harsh criticism from the community at the time.

Some Custer residents were upset by surveys done in preparation for that project, as Williams had gone onto their properties to explore possible routes without their permission, The Bellingham Herald reported on March 19, 2000.

In August 2000, some people lashed out against a consultant working to acquire easements for the pipeline, pelting her with raw eggs and calling her a “baby killer.” The incident took place just more than a year after three young people, including two 10-year-olds, were killed in the Olympic pipeline explosion in Bellingham on June 10, 1999.

Throughout the process, some people expressed their concerns about the potential impacts to the environment. Some wondered what would be the benefit to Washington if the project was merely taking Canadian natural gas to a Canadian LNG plant.

The company had federal approval from both the U.S. and Canada in 2003 but decided not to move forward with the then-estimated $209 million project. Then-project partner BC Hydro announced they were scrapping the plan in 2004, citing that one planned LNG plant on Vancouver Island appeared unlikely to be built at the time, and two others likely could be served with other cheaper plans.

New plan

Now revived, the project will again require permits and permission from state, local and U.S. and Canadian federal agencies. Williams said it hopes to bring the line in service by November 2020.

“It will be highly regulated,” Swaner said of the pipeline project. “We will do lots of studies, and extensive exploration.”

The current proposal would be an “open access” pipeline, Swaner said, meaning other companies that wanted to tap into the U.S. pipeline in the future could do so, under an agreement with Williams.

It has not been decided how big around the pipe will be, or how much natural gas would move through it, Swaner said.

Williams has been building pipelines for more than 100 years, Swaner said, and Northwest Pipeline has been operating in the Pacific Northwest since 1956.

“Our employees live and work there. We are really a part of the community,” she said. “We’ve been here a long time, and any time we talk about a proposed pipeline we become part of the community again.”

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.