Pipe dreams

Federal commission solicits comments

There seem to be few things standing between Entrega Gas Pipeline Inc. and its plans to transport natural gas from Meeker to Cheyenne, Wyo.

Several comments were offered by public officials and environmental representatives at a public scoping meeting Wednesday, but all were issues Entrega officials say can be addressed and shouldn't stand in the way of its application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 327-mile pipeline.

Concerns ranged from noxious weed control to endangered species preservation and from the impact on landowners to the economic and environmental impacts of natural resource development.

"If I had to say, the No. 1 issue we've encountered is noxious weeds," said Larry Sauter, environmental manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "There has to be a balance between progress and completeness. Somewhere between those two extremes is where I'm going to be walking."

Notice of the public meeting went to more than 2,000 stakeholders. Despite that, fewer than 20 people attended to comment.

Christi Ruppe with the Western Colorado Congress asked about the reclamation standards and the proximity of construction and compressor stations to homes.

She was told there were a few areas where planned compressor stations could be within several miles, or even as close as a hundred feet, of a home, but that the sites for compressor stations were not set in stone.

The comments were recorded and will be included in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by FERC and released for additional public comment.

Entrega officials say they plan to address the specific comments in landowner easement agreements or in reports filed with its application to the FERC.

Though it doesn't yet have Entrega's application, FERC is hosting public meetings in a pre-filing process meant to speed up its response to the application by mitigating concerns before the application is filed. A formal application is expected at the end of August.

The pre-filing process provides an attempt to resolve issues before the actual filing and establishes early discussion.

Entrega proposes to place the project in service in two phases. The 36-inch portion -- the Meeker Hub to Wamsutter, Wyo. -- is expected to be in service in fall 2005. The second portion -- Wamsutter to the Cheyenne Hub -- will commence service a year later. Entrega will request permission to begin construction in spring 2005.

Construction of the pipeline would require about 5,159 acres of private and Bureau of Land Management Land.

BLM Little Snake Resource Office Director John Husband said the Bureau already has had several discussions with Entrega officials.

"It's been a pretty standard process concerning surface rights and disturbances," he said. "I haven't seen anything that will hold the project up."

Louise McMinn, BLM realty specialist, agreed, saying the concerns voiced to this point are fairly minor.

One concern is that one of the pipeline's five proposed compressor stations will be too near sage grouse breeding grounds and that the noise and service traffic might disturb the endangered species.

The solution, McMinn said, is simply to move the proposed the compressor station site.

"We just need more information," McMinn said. "I'm not aware of anything that has significant impact at this point."

The economic impact won't be known until the close of "open season" -- a solicitation of bids from companies who want to use the pipeline to transport natural gas.

Open season runs June 4 through 25.

"We've been very happy with the response," spokeswoman Lara Salazar said. "The question is always the national energy need and this is the answer to that."

Construction of the pipeline is broken down into four to five "spreads," with each employing 200 to 300 workers for 100 to 120 days. There is a possibility that all spreads will be constructed in tandem.

The economic impact of the construction is something Moffat County Department of Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock asked be thoroughly explored in the final report from FERC.

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