The U.S. Forest Service has unwisely chosen the most destructive and potentially illegal path for the Bull Mountain natural gas pipeline, conservation groups said today in response to a final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Forest Service.
Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress, Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, and High Country Citizens Alliance strongly object to the U.S. Forest Service intention to allow a natural gas line through two national forests and three inventoried roadless areas in the Clear Fork Divide.
The Clear Fork Divide is a 120,000 acre, wild, roadless complex that connects the Grand and Battlement Mesas to the West Elk Mountains and the spine of the Rocky Mountains. It includes portions of Gunnison, Delta, Garfield, Mesa, and Pitkin counties. The Clear Fork Divide provides important wildlife habitat for big game and other species and is an extremely popular hunting area.
Aside from creating a 100-foot-wide scar for 25.5 miles through roadless areas and national forests, the Forest Service is allowing the pipeline company to build roads in order to construct the pipeline. “This is a clear violation of the 2001 Roadless Rule,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing local conservation groups opposed to the chosen route.
The whole point of the Roadless Rule is to protect intact ecosystems like the Clear Fork Divide, said Mark Schofield, with Western Colorado Congress. “As the Forest Service concedes, this project will have ‘significant adverse impacts’ on these areas.”
Moreover, the pipeline’s 20-inch size has the gas transmission capacity to stimulate and accommodate a huge amount of energy development, up to 282 wells, magnitudes more than the 55-60 wells analyzed in the FEIS. That scale of development will turn some of the best elk and bear country in Colorado into an industrial zone resembling the gas fields along I-70. Yet, the Forest Service blithely refuses to acknowledge its responsibility to analyze and disclose these impacts.
“The Forest Service and BLM are getting their marching orders straight out of DC — full speed ahead with energy development with total disregard for cherished Western values: clean air, clean water, bountiful wildlife, and unrivaled hunting opportunities,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. “Our natural heritage and Western lifestyle are being sacrificed on the altar of a wasteful and shortsighted energy policy. After the boom goes bust, the foundation of Colorado’s West Slope economies will be destroyed. What will we do then?”
“The gas isn’t going anywhere, so why not take the time and make the effort to safeguard our water, land and wildlife,” asked Dan Morse with High Country Citizens’ Alliance in Crested Butte. “What’s the rush?”
“This pipeline should be approved only after a thorough analysis and public disclosure of the full extent of impacts it will trigger,” said Rob Peters with WSERC. “And then, if the impacts of full field development can be acceptably mitigated, it should follow one of the two preferable alternative routes that, while longer, are far less damaging to our public lands. It’s just common sense that punching a 100-foot-wide swath through a core wild and roadless area has much greater impact than following existing roads.”
By contrast, the Forest Service has decided on a route that will stab through the heart of wild and roadless areas even though it is illegal under the roadless rule. As their own photos and diagrams show, pipeline construction necessitates constructing a road that includes travel lanes and passing lanes. But by calling it something else — temporary use areas or construction corridor — the Forest Service attempts to skirt the spirit and letter of the law.
Cooley said she is also concerned about the precedent of allowing temporary roads in roadless areas. “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. This case has national ramifications.”