Judge rejects motion to halt pipeline in western Colorado
ASPEN ” A federal judge has rejected efforts to block construction of a natural gas pipeline through roadless national forest land in western Colorado.
Pitkin County and environmental groups were seeking a temporary injunction to halt construction of a 25.5-mile pipeline south of Silt on the White River and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.
But U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn in Denver denied the motion Wednesday. He said the groups hadn’t shown that they would likely prevail on the merits of the claim, the criteria for winning an injunction.
Blackburn’s decision doesn’t prevent the lawsuit from going forward, but it clears the way for work on the pipeline to start soon. Construction could be completed by the time the lawsuit is resolved.
“It’s disappointing, of course,” said Sloan Shoemaker of the environmental group Wilderness Workshop. “We’re considering what our options are.”
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management gave final approval in January to the project to be used by Gunnison Energy and SGI Interests in northern Gunnison County. The pipeline will run through three roadless areas: two in the White River forest and one in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison forest.
Pitkin County officials fear construction of the pipeline could lead to the drilling of gas wells in the western part of the county, near Carbondale. No new wells have been drilled in the county since development has picked up the last few years, but thousands of acres of public land have been leased to gas companies.
SGI Interests has 13 gas leases on 17,170 acres in Pitkin County, Shoemaker said. All those leases are in the White River National Forest.
The pipeline would connect with one running near Interstate 70.
Environmental groups say the pipeline would violate a 2001 federal ban on development of roadless national forest land.
The Clinton-era rule prohibited new roads on 58.5 million acres of national forest land. A federal court overturned the rule and the Bush administration passed regulations in 2005 opening some of the land to potential development.
The 2001 rule was reinstated after a federal judge threw out the Bush administration policy in 2006. The roughly 4 million acres of roadless areas in Colorado are protected while state and federal officials draft a management plan for the land.
The BLM has said no roads will be built and the new pipeline will parallel an existing one.
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