Approval forecast for pipeline that would cross roadless areas |

Approval forecast for pipeline that would cross roadless areas

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Both proponents and opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cross roadless areas in national forest south of Silt are expecting final approval of the proposal soon.The Bull Mountain Pipeline would run from northwest Gunnison County to the Divide Creek area south of Silt. There, the 20-inch-diameter pipeline would hook up with an east-west line that taps into national markets.On its way, it would cross about eight miles of roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and White River National Forest. It would follow the right of way of a smaller, 1980s-era pipeline.The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service identified the route as their preference in a draft environmental impact statement (EIS). Forest Service spokesperson Lee Ann Loupe said the final EIS is near completion but no decision on a route has been made.However, Gunnison Energy Corp., which would own half of the pipeline, is anticipating that the government will approve the route through the roadless area.”The plan is to take advantage of the fact that you have an existing pipeline already there and use the same right of way,” said Gunnison Energy president Brad Robinson.Dan Morse, public lands director for the High Country Citizens’ Alliance in Crested Butte, said there are strong indications that the route will be approved, based on the draft EIS findings and discussions with agency officials.Morse said the pipeline would cause heavy disturbances in roadless terrain.”It’s pretty remote, it’s pretty wild and it’s pretty highly used by wildlife,” he said.But Robinson and the draft EIS contend the impacts would be less than that resulting from alternative routes following roads or electricity transmission lines. The road route would be 39 miles long rather than 25, and take two years versus four months to build, resulting in more miles of disturbance over more time, Robinson said. And construction along roads would require dealing with wetlands and slope instability, he said.The transmission line route is unbuildable because of slumps and wetlands between some of the utility towers, he said.He said he’s surprised that environmental groups such as Morse’s would ask Gunnison Energy to do more damage than necessary.”We also understand the roadless areas are important to them,” he said.The pipeline proposal comes at a time of heightened debate over management of roadless areas, both in Colorado and across the country, along with increased scrutiny over the impacts of the fast-growing energy industry on the Western Slope. A recent federal court decision again made a 2001 Clinton administration rule protecting roadless areas the law of the land, Loupe said. The Bush administration had sought to replace that rule.However, Loupe said the 2001 rule doesn’t preclude installation of pipelines in roadless areas.Morse said that’s true where pipelines are needed to transport oil and gas from lands previously leased for energy development within roadless areas. But it’s not intended to allow roadless areas to be crossed by pipelines serving wells outside roadless areas, he said.Morse said following the existing pipeline route would involve disturbances up to 100 feet wide along the corridor, and invite travel by the public once the work was finished.Robinson said the shorter route could save Gunnison Energy about $14 million. Although that’s a lot of money for the company, it’s small in comparison to other investments Gunnison Energy is making in drilling wells that will tap into the pipeline, he said. The company has drilled about 20 wells in northwest Gunnison County and north of Cedaredge, he said.”Quite honestly, this creates controversy we would like to avoid,” Robinson said of the route through the roadless area.He said he expects a lawsuit over that route, but also thinks legal action probably would occur if the longer route along roadways were chosen.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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