A Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling recently found the Ruby natural gas pipeline in violation of several environmental laws, including jeopardizing endangered species, which means that the owners of the pipeline must take measures to demonstrate conservation. Lawsuits have been in the works since 2010 after the pipeline was first approved, according to David von Seggern, emeritus professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and member of the Toiyabe chapter of the Sierra Club, a national conservation project. The Sierra Club is part of a group of organizations which filed a formal appeal, Center for Biological Diversity v. BLM (Bureau of Land Management), against BLM and Fish and Wildlife Services. Other filing organizations include the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Great Basin Resource Watch and the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe.
“Mainly, we objected to the pipeline route which went through Northern Nevada without regard for our wildlife,” von Seggern says. “It was the preferred route by the contractor but not preferred route by environmentalists.” The Sierra Club had presented alternative routes, which von Seggern says were “not even considered.” The Sierra Club had also filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, but the group will withdraw this case as a result of the ruling.
The pipeline was authorized by BLM in 2010 and is owned and operated by Kinder Morgan LLC. It’s a 42-inch-wide pipe that extends more than 678 miles from Malin, Ore., to Opal, Wyo. Construction completed last year, and transport of natural gas began in summer 2011. A large portion of the pipeline crosses through Northern Nevada.
While von Seggern says the Sierra Club’s issues with the pipeline were largely about the pipeline’s route, the case had a stronger chance if it focused on the threat of endangered species. According to the case document, the pipeline “encompasses approximately 2,291 acres of federal lands and crosses 209 rivers and streams that support federally endangered and threatened fish species.” The Fish and Wildlife Service ruled out any threat to these species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Warner sucker, Lost River sucker, shortnose sucker and Modoc sucker which “inhabit waters in Nevada, Oregon or both,” and allowed the BLM to move forward with the pipeline. But the three-judge panel of the court ruled that this violates the terms of the Endangered Species Act.
Von Seggern notes that the Sierra Club’s efforts were focused solely on concern for wildlife.
“We want to make it clear that we pursued this lawsuit not to stop natural gas production,” says Von Seggern. “We’re not opposed to what they did. We simply wanted to make their pipeline as environmental safe to protect local wildlife. It was the policy of the Sierra Club to support natural gas as a good alternative to coal.”
A report by the Associated Press indicates that the BLM agreed to 12 efforts to protect endangered fish populations, “but committed to fully funding only seven of them.” Mitigations would include improving vegetation along streams and building migration barriers. Von Seggern says that the Sierra Club is “still trying to figure out what the court ruling will demand” of the BLM, which has 90 days to respond to the ruling.