Pitkin County, environmental groups sue feds over pipeline
Ryan Summerlin March 6, 2008
ASPEN ” Pitkin County commissioners and a coalition of conservation groups sued the federal government Wednesday to try to keep a proposed natural gas pipeline out of a roadless areas in two national forests.
The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over their approval of the Bull Mountain pipeline, which is approved for construction through three roadless areas south of Silt.
The plaintiffs include Wilderness Workshop, the oldest local environmental organization in the Roaring Fork Valley. The conservation groups claimed in the lawsuit that the federal agencies essentially approved a road in roadless areas by approval of the pipeline.
The lawsuit also claimed that the agencies failed to consider the impacts of hundreds of additional gas wells that could be made possible by the pipeline.
Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, said the construction of the pipeline could be a harbinger of drilling of gas wells in Pitkin County.
A Texas firm called SG Interests (SGI) is the principal proponent of the Bull Mountain pipeline, Shoemaker said. The company also holds 13 gas leases on 17,170 acres of land in western Pitkin County. Those leases are within the White River National Forest.
“It is reasonable to expect that SGI would consider filling its newly constructed, large capacity pipeline with gas it develops from nearby leases it also owns,” Shoemaker said.
The federal agencies should have examined the impacts of the gas wells that will be sought to complement the pipeline project, the conservation groups and Pitkin County contend in the lawsuit. Pitkin County officials couldn’t be reached Wednesday evening.
The Bull Mountain pipeline itself doesn’t pass through Pitkin County. It will connect to existing, underground pipelines that exist in the county. The proposed Bull Mountain pipeline would be 25 1/2 miles long and connect with a main pipeline along Interstate 70.
The route approved by the federal agencies cuts through 8 miles of the Clear Creek, East Willow and Baldy Mountain roadless areas. Its construction would cut a 100-foot wide “construction corridor” for construction equipment.
In addition to Wilderness Workshop and Pitkin County, the parties that filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Denver are: Western Colorado Congress, Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, High Country Citizens Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity.
When the federal agencies were considering the pipeline, the coalition members suggested two alternative routes that avoid the roadless areas and follow existing roads and transmission lines.