A coal export terminal proposed in Oregon faces a new roadblock after state regulators found the project's developer needs a permit to operate on the Columbia River.

That finding represented a reversal for the Oregon Department of State Lands, which previously said no such permit was required. The decision also came roughly one month after Ambre Energy took a major step towards beginning work on its proposed export dock in Port of Morrow and Port of St. Helens. In February,  the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved air quality, water quality and storm construction permits for the project, known officials as Morrow Pacific. 

The facility, if approved, would ship around 8 million tons of Wyoming and Montana coal to Asia annually. Port Marrow is one of several coal export docks planned for the West Coast.

Wyoming officials and coal companies in the Powder River Basin have lobbied hard for the docks, saying the facilities as essential to the industry's ability to serve Asia's coal fired power plants. But the facilities have run into fierce opposition from environmentalists, who argue the docks will perpetuate coal use and worsen global climate change. 

In a letter sent to Ambre Friday, DSL Operations Manager Lori Warner-Dickason wrote the state owns lands submerged beneath the Columbia River. State authorization is consequently required for the project, she wrote.

Ambre Energy has proposed unloading coal from trains onto barges, which will then travel the river, depositing cargo onto the ships headed for Asia.

“This decision is a no-brainer," said Cesia Kearns, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club and co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition. "Our state should not lease public land for the construction of a dirty, dangerous coal export terminal that would threaten the health and safety of families throughout Oregon and along the Columbia River Gorge."

Ambre Energy is reviewing the letter and will consult with the Port of St. Helens and the Port of Morrow, a company spokeswoman told the Daily Astorian.  

In other energy news:

  • Encana is reportedly in advanced talks to sell its share in the Jonah field to a pair of private equity firms for around $2 billion. Our story is here
  • Chesapeake Energy is preparing to spin-off its oil services division in a bid to slash its debt and raise the value of the company's assets, Reuters reports. The company announced plans earlier this year to cut spending by 20 percent and sell assets to close a funding gap of around $1 billion. Chesapeake has taken a leading role in developing the Niobrara and Frontier formations in eastern Wyoming. 
  • Crimea's vote to break from Ukraine sent oil prices down Monday, the Associated Press reports

By the numbers:

  • Natural gas prices: Henry Hub $4.59, Wyoming Pool $4.36
  • Oil prices: West Texas Intermediate $98.08, Brent Crude $106.24

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or benjamin.storrow@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

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