Proposed Portland Propane Pipeline Proving Problematic

Over three months ago, Pembina Pipeline, a Canadian energy company, announced plans to build a propane export terminal in St. Johns. The $500 million facility would’ve brought hundreds of temporary construction jobs to the area, thirty to forty permanent jobs, and nearly $100 million in property tax over the next ten years. There’s one minor problem: Portland’s city zoning restrictions.

“Overlay Zone”

The 50-acre site, near the Columbia/Willamette River confluence, was given an environmental “overlay zone” in 1989. The overlay zone was intended to protect wildlife and the land itself. The transportation of hazardous chemicals was banned, except by rail or truck. A pipeline, obviously, is neither of these, and so such a thing is not allowed.

Pembina Pipeline was unaware of the code until after its plans were in motion. Changing the overlay zone code would require the approval of both the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission and the Portland City Council. City planners briefly kicked around a plan to add pipelines to the hazardous material transport exceptions, but environmentalists argued that the move would set a precedence to open all of Portland’s environmental zones to fuel exports.

An amendment has been proposed that would grant a pipeline exemption to heavy industrial sites with “a primary river-dependent industrial use”. (Basically, just the site in question.) Portland Planning and Sustainability staff are said to support the amendment; Portland Mayor Charlie Hales says the project is “great news” for his city. The City Planning Commission will meet to consider the proposal on January 13.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The proposed facility would include storage for roughly one million gallons of refrigerated liquid propane. This amount of propane, when burned as fuel, would release three to five million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. This presents a real quandary for those trying to keep Portland at the forefront of environmentalism.


Said Rowen Berman of Portland Rising Tide, a climate change activist group, “It makes it very hard to present ourselves internationally as a green leader when it’s clear that what we’re really into is money at any cost.”

“At a time when we are working very hard to bring the carbon footprint of Portland down, this is a lot of new carbon into the atmosphere,” said Bob Sallinger of the Audubon Society of Portland.

City planner Tom Armstrong notes that the propane plane would also be “one of the larger industrial energy users in the city.” As currently planned, the facility would use more than 8,000 megawatt hours of electricity every month. The average home consumes less than one megawatt hour per month.

To their credit, Pembina Pipeline has said they won’t proceed with the project without public support and without following the proper channels. The company has met with numerous local conservation groups and labor organizations. “We look forward to continuing the many conversations we’ve had to date with the people who are interested in our project,” said Pembina spokesman Jason Fydirchuk.

Photo credit: Ruin Raider / iW / CC BY-NC-ND