For Immediate Release, July 30, 2010
Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Lawsuit Filed to Stop 677-mile Ruby Pipeline and Protect Endangered Fish
PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the 677-mile “Ruby” natural gas pipeline, which would cut across some of the most pristine and remote lands in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California. The pipeline will cross more than 1,000 rivers and streams, affecting crucial habitat for several endangered fish species, and will use more than 400 million gallons of water over the next several years from an increasingly arid area.
“The Ruby Pipeline will cause severe damage to rivers and streams, sensitive habitats for a host of fish and wildlife species and some of the most pristine lands in western North America,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. “Instead of creating an entirely new path of destruction, an existing pipeline route should have been utilized.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to issue rights of way on federal lands and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s review of the project’s impacts on endangered species. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion and other documents, the pipeline will have serious impacts on several endangered fish species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Warner Creek sucker, Lost River sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and others. The pipeline, which would be built by the El Paso Corporation, would cross 209 streams that serve as habitat for these fish. The work could also include blasting through 143 streams to lay the pipeline and depleting flows with its substantial use of water.
In 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluding there would be serious impacts to fish and other resources. The agency initially proposed several mitigation measures, but most were not included in its final review of the project.
“The pipeline will have serious impacts on nine endangered fish species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout and Warner Creek sucker, as well as a host of other imperiled fish,” said Greenwald. “The El Paso Corporation has not done enough to ensure the Ruby Pipeline won’t jeopardize endangered fish.”
In a particularly glaring error, the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the potential for a pipeline rupture at stream crossings along the route. Instead, the biological opinion for the project concluded that a rupture in the Ruby Pipeline “would not be reasonably likely to occur,” and therefore “the Service will not address pipeline ruptures.”
“If there’s one lesson we should have learned from the Gulf disaster, it’s that things can and do go wrong when regulatory agencies don’t do their jobs,” said Greenwald. “If the pipeline ruptures at a stream crossing, it could have devastating consequences for these endangered fish and other stream life.”
Indeed, pipelines constructed by El Paso Corporation have ruptured before, including one in Bushland, Texas, where three people were hurt, and another in Carlsbad, N.M., where 12 people were killed. Neither rupture was discussed in Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion. One of the companies that has contracted to use the pipeline is BP.
The El Paso Corporation has worked out an agreement with a number of conservation organizations that establishes a fund to protect sage grouse habitat and purchase grazing leases.
“Although the El Paso Corporation has taken steps to reduce some of the tremendous impacts of the Ruby Pipeline on the environment, serious concerns remain,” said Greenwald. “More needs to be done to ensure the pipeline doesn’t drive endangered fish to extinction.”
Today’s challenge was filed in the Ninth Circuit because of a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that bypasses district court for challenges to energy projects.
On Tuesday, the Center submitted a request for rehearing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission raising the above issues as well as other concerns with approval of the pipeline. Those issues include failure to protect cultural resources and historic sites that are protected under the National Historic Preservation Act; an improper determination by the Fish and Wildlife Service that the use of roads on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge is compatible with the refuge’s mission to protect wildlife; and a failure to ensure that the pipeline will not impact bald and golden eagles. Consideration of the request and the legal challenge filed today will proceed concurrently.
The Ruby Pipeline in relation to conservation populations of the endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout.
The entire route of the Ruby Pipeline from the final environmental impact statement.