Federal court lifts injunction
The 25-mile Bull Mountain Natural Gas Pipeline was cleared to resume construction last week after being temporarily halted by a court injunction earlier in June.
On Wednesday, June 18, a three judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the temporary injunction on the pipeline, which is being proposed by Houston-based SG Interests and Gunnison Energy. Robbie Guinn, vice president of SG Interests, says, “We are pleased with the decision and construction has resumed.”
A consortium of environmental groups and Pitkin County requested the injunction and are objecting to the pipeline’s construction, claiming it violates aspects of the 2001 Roadless Area Rule. Groups involved in the lawsuit also include High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA), Wilderness Workshop and Earthjustice.
HCCA public lands director Dan Morse says the groups are disappointed that the injunction was lifted. “Now the roadless areas are in jeopardy of having a pipeline in them,” he says. “It’s been our objective all along to protect them.”
The pipeline will traverse two national forests through five Colorado counties—Gunnison, Delta, Mesa, Garfield and Pitkin—and will enter the 120,000-acre Clear Fork Divide designated roadless complex that connects the Grand and Battlement Mesas to the West Elk Mountains.
The U.S. Forest Service approved the pipeline earlier this spring, finding that the chosen route would have the fewest impacts on the surrounding forest.
In response to the Forest Service decision, the environmental groups appeared in United States District Court for Colorado in April 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. On June 6, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of that decision, halting construction of the pipeline in roadless areas. At that time the court announced it would have a hearing on June 18 to decide whether the injunction should stay in place until the Colorado District Court can rule on the lawsuit.
With the recent decision to lift the injunction, Guinn says, “I think it’s clear the court interpreted the Roadless Rule the way the federal agencies were interpreting it.” Guinn says the cost of the lawsuit will be “in hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Despite the injunction being lifted last week, Morse says the lawsuit against the pipeline may continue. He says that, irrespective of the injunction, the court will issue an order on the merits of the case at some point in the future. “We’re waiting to see the appellate court’s order before we make any decision,” Morse says.
Morse says the bigger question the groups seek to answer in the lawsuit is “whether a pipeline and the roads associated with pipeline construction can be built in a roadless area.”
Guinn says following the injunction the companies have not had a chance to re-estimate the project’s completion date. He says the Forest Service is limiting construction of the pipeline between May 1 and October 1. “It’s yet to be seen how far we can get this construction season,” Guinn says.