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Gas pipeline could cross roadless area

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The federal government may be little more than a month away from authorizing construction of a natural gas pipeline through a roadless area, something environmentalists say could have national implications.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service this week issued a final environmental study for the Bull Mountain Pipeline, which would run from northwest Gunnison County to the Divide Creek area south of Silt.

The study calls for the pipeline to cross about eight miles of roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison and White River national forests. It would follow the route of a smaller, 1980s-era pipeline. The study reaffirms the findings of a prior, draft study.

Several environmental groups say the proposal would violate the 2001 roadless rule.

“If we let the Forest Service get away with this at Bull Mountain, they will likely pursue construction of temporary roads in other roadless areas, where they are currently banned,” Robin Cooley, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a news release issued by groups including Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress, the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council and the High Country Citizens Alliance.

The federal agencies say the proposed route is consistent with the roadless rule.

Brad Robinson, president of Gunnison Energy Corp., which would own half of the pipeline, says another gas pipeline is being built through another nearby roadless area, in Hells Gulch south of Silt. And dozens of pipelines and utility lines go through other roadless areas, he said.

The environmental groups say the pipeline construction will require building a road with travel lanes and passing lanes. But the government is calling the road something else ” such as a temporary use area or construction corridor ” “to skirt the spirit and letter of the law to punch this project through,” the environmental groups said in their news release.

Robinson contends the route will do far less environmental damage than a longer one that would follow an existing road. That creates a practical problem for environmental groups trying to act on principle, he said.

“I think they’ll really have a difficult time representing that this is the wrong decision for this specific project,” he said.

Colorado has asked for protection of roadless areas, and the Forest Service has agreed to let the state review projects within areas affected by the 2001 roadless rule.

Environmentalists also contend the pipeline’s 20-inch-diameter size has the ability to accommodate up to 282 gas wells. That’s far more than the 55 to 60 analyzed in the new study, and the Forest Service has failed to disclose and analyze the impacts of additional gas development, they say.

The government contends it evaluated possible future development to the extent possible, given the speculative nature of oil and gas development.

Charlie Richmond, supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests, said the pipeline is intended to be big enough to avoid the need for building another one later, which would require future disturbance and expense.


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