Roadless area routes for utilities concern environmental groups

An attempt to shrink a loophoole for gas pipelines will backfire on the writers of proposed roadless rules for Colorado, conservation groups say.

The result will be opening the door to electric, water and telecommunication corridors in roadless areas, the groups say.

The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club and Colorado Wildlife Federation raised the issue during a teleconference Tuesday. They said the roadless proposal should provide the highest level of protections to at least half of Colorado’s roadless acres rather than the 13 percent proposed. They also say oil and gas companies should be barred from surface occupancy on lands receiving the highest protections.

The U.S. Forest Service this week launched a series of public meetings on the roadless proposal. The two closest meetings will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. June 15 at the Montrose Pavilion and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 16 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

The proposal would tighten rules for building oil and gas pipelines in roadless areas. That issue came to light after conservation groups sued to try to stop construction of the Bull Mountain pipeline through eight miles of roadless acreage between northwest Gunnison County and the Divide Creek area south of Silt. A federal appeals court in 2008 refused to stop the pipeline, saying language in the 2001 national roadless rule suggested the project is permissible.

The Colorado-specific proposal would prohibit pipelines that merely pass through a roadless area. Pipelines would still be considered if they connected to oil and gas leases or infrastructure within roadless areas.

Pete Kolbenschlag, an environmental organizer, said tightened language is welcome, but not additional language allowing structures such as power lines.

According to the federal proposal notice, the rule recognizes demand for additional power lines is expected. It also clarifies that power and telecommunication corridors would be allowed only if locating them elsewhere would cause substantially greater environmental damage.

Robert Randall, deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said all comments on the proposed Colorado rule “will be reviewed closely as we work with the Forest Service to produce a rule with the broadest range of public support.”

Brad Robinson of Gunnison Energy, which co-owns the Bull Mountain pipeline, said he isn’t surprised that conservation groups wante to limit surface occupancy for drilling, saying most such groups generally “want to shut off all access” to forests.


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