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Fossil-Fuel Terminals Falter Across the Pacific Northwest

Coal and natural gas haven’t found friendly ports in Oregon and Washington.

Two years ago, the Pacific Northwest looked like a surefire shipping hub for fossil fuels.

The price of crude oil in the U.S. had topped $100 a barrel. That made competing fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal look cheap to Asian buyers, who lack sufficient domestic energy sources.

Developers planned liquefied natural gas export terminals at both ends of the Oregon Coast. Proposed coal export docks popped up like mushrooms. And a Portland facility for exporting Canadian propane looked like a lock.

Not so fast.

The price of crude plummeted, going nearly as low as $30 a barrel early this year. Cheap oil—and an outpouring of opposition—has changed everything.

Mayor Charlie Hales' controversial May 2015 cancellation of the Portland propane dock hurt him at the time, but today he looks prescient. In the past month, three proposed export terminals have evaporated, and more are in jeopardy.

"The demise of Oregon LNG and other dirty energy projects sends a strong message to fossil fuel speculators," says Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "Northwest communities take our role in combating climate change seriously. And we will fight tooth and nail for clean air and water."

Here's a scorecard of where terminal plans went up in smoke.

1. May 7, 2015:

Having previously pledged his strong support for the project, Hales announces his opposition to a $500 million Portland terminal that would have exported Canadian propane to Asia. Hales was the swing vote on the City Council, and his change of heart doomed the project—and sunk support for his re-election from the business lobby.

2. March 11, 2016:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denies permits for a proposed $7.5 billion Jordan Cove LNG terminal, near Coos Bay, Ore., effectively killing a project that had strong support from local politicians and trade unions—but not from nearby landowners. In its ruling, the FERC cited an "absence of demonstrated need" for the project.

3. April 15, 2016:

Oregon LNG cancels a proposed $6 billion LNG terminal in

Warrenton, Ore. The north coast project faced stronger local opposition than the Jordan Cove project, including from Clatsop County commissioners, who last year denied developers a key permit.

4. April 15, 2016:

The Port of Vancouver, Wash., extends by eight months the decision deadline for a $210 million crude oil terminal. Oil producers in North Dakota's Bakken field are desperate for a bigger Pacific Coast rail outlet that would allow shipments to coastal refineries to the north and south, and exports to Asia. But safety concerns after oil-train fires elsewhere have given opponents ammunition to block the massive project.

5. April 19, 2016:

Northwest Innovation Works, a Chinese-owned company, cancels a proposed $3.6 billion methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma. The plant would have converted natural gas into methanol for export to Asia, where it would be used to manufacture plastics. NIW still has two other projects pending on the Columbia River, at the Port of St. Helens, Ore., and Kalama, Wash.

6. April 29, 2016:

Officials will release a key economic impact statement for a proposed $600 million coal terminal at Longview, Wash. The proposed terminal could export up to 44 million tons a year of Wyoming-produced coal to Asia. Coal prices have collapsed as U.S. utilities switch to other fuels, making exports attractive. But the opposition to coal trains rolling through the Columbia River Gorge is enormous.

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