NorthernStar Natural Gas, the Houston company that halted its plans to build a $650 million liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River earlier this week, has filed for bankruptcy, according to court documents.
The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing means the company will probably be liquidated, which means the Bradwood Landing terminal most likely won't be built.
"It's truly dead at this point," said Dan Serres, an activist with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, the terminal's most vocal opponent.
Serres called the company's bankruptcy the end of a "five-year fiasco" and "a shot across the bow of the LNG industry."
NorthernStar did not respond to inquiries on Wednesday.
The company had planned to bring superchilled liquid gas 38 miles up the Columbia River by tanker and store it in two 11-story-tall tanks. The reheated gas would have been sent to market in a new pipeline crossing the Columbia River and connecting with the Williams pipeline north of Kelso.
Since 2005, the company has spent tens of millions of dollars on consultants, lawyers, lobbyists and regulatory filings in an attempt to overcome a vast array of environmental hurdles and win the public's support.
The terminal's detractors described it as an environmental and safety hazard that threatened to hold up shipping traffic, ruin salmon habitat and undermine tourism in nearby Astoria. Some Cowlitz County landowners fought the project, saying they would unfairly lose portions of their land to accommodate NorthernStar's pipeline.
The terminal's backers said it would lower natural gas prices, boost the economy and provide millions of dollars in tax revenues to local communities.
On Wednesday, Clatskanie Mayor Diane Pohl called NorthernStar's collapse "a shame" and "a huge loss."
The terminal, she said, would have brought family wage jobs to the area, and some of the workers, no doubt, would have lived in Clatskanie, pumping dollars into the little town's economy.
"Hysteria and a lot of misinformation went around, and Bradwood hung around as long as they could," Pohl said. "It reflects on Oregon and the brutality of getting industry sited in this state. It's very difficult. It takes years, not months."
After years of heated-rhetoric and battles over government permits, the fight appeared to come to a close Tuesday as NorthernStar announced it "suspended" its efforts to build the terminal because it could not attract investors and didn't know if it would get government approval to build the facility.
It was revealed Wednesday that, as NorthernStar was announcing its decision to halt development at Bradwood, the company filed for bankruptcy in United States Bankruptcy Court in Houston.
In bankruptcy documents, NorthernStar listed more than $21 million in liabilities, including more than $4 million owed to creditors. The company said it had $267,589 in assets.
Among NorthernStar's debts is nearly $186,500 owed to Clatsop County, according to the documents. The company also listed tens of thousands of dollars owed to lobbyists, consultants and communications firms.
The documents showed that NorthernStar paid more than $1.5 million to similar businesses this year. Among them was more than $76,000 to Energy Action Northwest, a pro-industry group that advocated loudly for the Bradwood terminal's construction.
NorthernStar said its assets had been pledged to Palomar Gas Transmission Inc., a joint venture between Northwest Natural Gas Co. and TransCanada Corp. to build a new natural gas pipeline that would have carried a portion of the gas imported to the Bradwood terminal across Oregon.
Northwest Natural spokeswoman Kim Heiting said NorthernStar paid nearly $16 million in project costs related to the Palomar pipeline. Now, she said, the Palomar line's western stretch, which would have reached from Mollala, Ore., to the Bradwood terminal, most likely won't be built.
"If there isn't a terminal, we wouldn't extend Palomar to serve it," Heiting said.
She said her company still plans to build the eastern stretch of the Palomar line, which would reach from Madras, Ore., to Mollala.
Heiting said a Northwest Natural project manager learned of NorthernStar's impending collapse Tuesday. The company noted NorthernStar's bankruptcy filing in its quarterly report to investors Wednesday, but Heiting said it would have "no impact on Northwest Natural."
Cameron Horowitz, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, told the Associated Press that increased domestic supplies of natural gas have slashed prices, killing the demand for LNG imports. Two other companies trying to develop LNG facilities in Oregon would face "slim" prospects of success, he said.
"Every year for the past five years, there's been talk that this country would be flooded with LNG imports, but it has never come to fruition," he said from Houston. "Given the outlook for U.S. natural gas prices and the rest of the world, I don't see it coming to fruition at all over the next five years."
Horowitz said LNG facilities on the Gulf of Mexico have been trying to win permission to ship LNG stockpiles back overseas.