Natural gas pipeline is a line in the sand

Published: Saturday, April 12 2014 4:25 p.m. MDT

Deb Walters points to what she sees as rust and other defects in a pipeline being installed in the Big Flat oil field outside of Canyonlands National Park. The $70 million pipeline project will be completed in June. The pipeline, opposed by critics of the oil industry, will convey natural gas captured instead of letting it be flared. The majority of the 24-mile pipeline is above ground given the terrain in the area and the impacts of burying the 10-inch line.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

MOAB — The wells of the Big Flat oil field outside Moab flared enough natural gas last year to supply 236,000 homes — more than 450 million cubic feet.

A new $70 million 24-mile-long pipeline will capture that natural gas, preventing the waste of a natural resource and the harmful pollutants caused by its release into the air.

The 12-inch pipeline crosses Bureau of Land Management property outside Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park, with the majority of the line above ground exposed.

Critics say the pipeline, scheduled to be fully installed by June, is unsafe and its proximity to outdoor recreation activities invites disaster.

"It is an unregulated gathering line in an area where there are lots of people vacationing and recreating," said Deb Walter, a Moab resident who is also active in the Sierra Club. "There is about 500,000 people who use that area a year. There is always Jeepers out there, motorcycle riders out there, equestrians, and the pipeline is very dangerous."

Not so says Tim Rasmussen, spokesman for Fidelity Exploratiion & Production Co., which is putting in the pipeline. He said above-ground natural gas gathering lines are not uncommon, are safe, and several already exist in the Moab area.

It makes the pipeline, however, a literal "line in the sand" for some seeking to protect the land and its recreational opportunities, and those seeking to tap a natural resource, and the economic boost it would give those living and working in the area.

The land

Walter is a former school teacher from Park City who gardens, keeps bees and likes to ride Sally, her mustang, out in the red dust of the sagebrush strewn land north of Canyonlands National Park.

It is the same area where the Dead Horse Lateral Pipeline is going in.

"Our biggest concern is that it is a safety issue," she said. "It is in a very inappropriate area."

Wagner and others have lobbed repeated complaints at the Bureau of Land Management for granting the right of way for Fidelity to put in the gathering line.

They cite:

Lack of monitoring to ensure safe installation.

Above ground exposure near campgrounds and recreation routes.

Excessive tension due to lack of support as the line crosses washes or other low spots.

Residents riled up over the pipeline formed the Canyon Country Coalition for Pipeline Safety, taking photos of the construction process and documenting their concerns to the federal agency.

The BLM, which granted the right of way but is not the regulatory authority for pipeline safety, forwarded the information to Utah's pipeline safety arm within the Department of Commerce and to the federal Pipeline safety administration.

In an April 4 letter, the BLM asked for a review of the residents' concerns and an expedited response since the pipeline is nearing an end to construction. The coalition said the pipeline should be treated as a transmission line — not a gathering line — which would require more stringent standards.

Bill Rau, a member of the coalition, said the BLM committed that the pipeline be built to the standards of a transmission line, but he said he does not see that happening.

"I think there are design and construction problems that are creating public safety issues," he said. "The design was calling it a gathering line, when in fact it should be a transmission line."

Critics say the classification of the line is important because of the safety concerns.

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