A plan to run a controversial natural gas pipeline across the Wasatch Front has placed Utah opponents in the middle of a high-stakes game of bureaucratic red tape and corporate power plays.
"I think before the construction of this pipeline is realized there is going to be enormous cost in terms of money and resources in the courts between the various parties interested in this pipeline," said Dave Brown, a Bountiful resident and pipeline opponent. "The people who lose out on building the pipeline lose the right for enormous profits."Three weeks ago the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the permit to the Wyoming-California Pipeline Co. (WyCal) to build the $665 million pipeline that would cut across Utah from southwestern Wyoming to oil fields near Bakersfield, Calif.
The proposed route, which cuts through bench areas in Bountiful and North Salt Lake, as well as West Valley City, has raised the ire of some residents who question the safety of the pipeline in a flood- and earthquake-prone area. They also say the pipeline will scar mountains above their homes.
Residents and officials want the pipeline redirected through forest land, but unlike the other opponents they have little power or money to help change the minds of the U.S. Forest Service and federal regulators.
South Davis County mayors will meet Friday with representatives of Utah's congressional delegation, the Utah Attorney General's office, the governor's office, Forest Service and WyCal to ask for help to petition the regulatory commission before Feb. 13 for a rehearing.
If the rehearing is denied, the decision could be appealed in federal court. Such an appeal would likely require the assistance of the state. If that proves unsuccessful in altering the pipeline's route, Brown said, opponents would rather Mojave Pipeline Co. be certified to build a pipeline from the Arizona border to the Bakersfield area.
Gov. Norm Bangerter's administration has taken the position that they want the pipeline in Utah, but hope it can be rerouted, thereby keeping the economic benefits that will come with $80 million in expected construction-related revenues and $200 million in yearly property taxes.
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said on Monday that the commission won't likely consider a petition from local residents unless they produce new analytical information that was not studied during the preparation of environmental impact statements. They may also consider a petition if residents can prove they were ignored in the decision-making process.
Douglas Bischoff, Bangerter's deputy chief of staff, said the state may consider raising the point that 15-year-old maps were used in preparing some of the studies.
Renee Coon, representing the Bountiful Hills Residents and Concerned Citizens' Association, said another point of contention is that a request to an administrative law judge for a local hearing on the pipeline was denied and that affidavits to correct testimony given in Washington, D.C., were never considered.
WyCal's competitor, Salt Lake-based Kern River Gas Transmission Company, is downplaying the significance of WyCal's permit and has vowed to fight it in Washington and in the marketplace. Cuba Wadlington, Kern River executive vice president, said his company's proposed Wyoming-to-California pipeline, which would also pass through the Salt Lake Valley, will be certified this spring and eventually built.
The nation's largest natural gas supplier, Southern California Gas Co., and the California Public Utilities Commission have lined up against the controversial natural gas pipeline. They intend to file petitions with the FERC for a rehearing on WyCal's permit. In the meantime, WyCal and Kern River have been negotiating with several municipal gas systems that now buy natural gas from Southern California Gas.
"Our position is that there is no need for an interstate pipeline into California. It would create idle capacity on existing pipelines," said Rich Puz, Southern California Gas spokesman.
At stake for Kern River, WyCal and Mojave are large profits from sale of natural gas to oil producers near Bakersfield and a foothold in the nation's only remaining natural gas monopoly in Southern and Central California.
Wyoming gas producers also stand to profit from such a deal and have pledged to undercut the prices of California gas suppliers.