Environmental group’s attempts to halt construction denied
Construction of the Bull Mountain natural gas pipeline in Gunnison County has cleared its final hurdles and can start at any time.
On Tuesday, May 6, Gunnison County commissioners gave their final stamp of approval to issue permits for an eight-mile section of the pipeline that will cross Gunnison County.
SG Interests Ltd. vice-president Robbie Guinn says the company is happy to have the process complete. “The county did a very thorough job and analyzed the project according to the temporary oil and gas regulations that the county adopted,” he said in an interview this week. “It resulted in some additional mitigation measures for the pipeline in Gunnison County that we agreed to do and have been included in the resolution…we’re glad to have it completed.”
The pipeline, proposed by Houston-based SG Interests Ltd. and Gunnison Energy, had already been approved by the U.S. Forest Service, which found that the route would have the fewest impacts on the surrounding forest, despite bisecting three roadless areas.
The pipeline may traverse two national forests through five Colorado counties—Gunnison, Delta, Mesa, Garfield and Pitkin—and would enter the 120,000-acre Clear Fork Divide designated roadless complex that connects the Grand and Battlement Mesas to the West Elk Mountains.
In response to Forest Service decision, a consortium of environmental groups—including the local High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA)—and Pitkin County filed suit against the Forest Service for allegedly violating the 2001 Roadless Area Rule.
The group’s attorneys appeared in United States District Court for Colorado last month to request a preliminary injunction against construction of the pipeline, which was allowed to commence after May 1 under the Forest Service’s approval.
On Wednesday, April 30, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn in Denver denied the motion, stating that the groups had failed to show their claims would prevail in court. The decision does not mean the case is over, but only that construction may begin.
“Obviously, it’s a disappointing order from the court,” says HCCA public lands director Dan Morse, noting that the groups still plan to pursue their lawsuit despite the setback. “We see the case still has a lot of merit… It’s important nationally and it’s important in this circumstance and we’re going to pursue it.”
Attorney Robin Cooley, who represents the groups through California-based Earth Justice, agrees and says they will now have the opportunity to argue for their interpretation of the Roadless Rule before Judge Blackburn. “We’ll have another chance to convince Judge Blackburn that his order was in error,” she says. “We get another shot at it.” In addition, the groups are making a last-minute appeal before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking a reversal of Blackburn’s denial for preliminary injunction.
Even if construction begins in Gunnison County, Cooley says, the groups will pursue their lawsuit. “Even if they bulldoze through this roadless area, we’re going to do our best to get the courts to adopt our definition of roadless areas… Basically, we’re going to continue to pursue this so we can prevent other roadless areas from this fate.”
Guinn said he believed Judge Blackburn’s decision was well reasoned but would not comment further on pending litigation.
On Tuesday, May 6, the county commissioners decided that the project met the conditions laid out in the Gunnison County Temporary Regulations for Oil and Gas Operations and approved the issuance of permits for the project. The oil and gas regulations were adopted in 2003 to encourage responsible exploration and production of oil and gas resources and ensure that such operations do little or no harm to the environment or to the public.