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Sweeping Proposal Designates Western Energy Corridors

The long-awaited draft plan that designates energy transport corridors on federal lands in 11 western states for developing future oil, natural gas and hydrogen pipelines, as well as electricity transmission and distribution lines, was unveiled Thursday.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the federal Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense departments issued a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DPEIS), which proposes energy transport corridors across the West as required under Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005.

The need for more electric infrastructure in the West is influenced by several factors, according to the DPEIS: market restructuring, new energy policies seeking renewable resources, population growth, underinvestment in new lines and technology; and system reliability concerns.

In the 11 western states, the DPEIS noted that there are more than 27,000 miles of major natural gas pipes. "In the last 20 years, due in large part to market changes and environmental considerations, natural gas has played an increasingly important role as an energy source..." and the need for new gas infrastructure arises in the West for three principal reasons, the DPEIS noted.

First, demand for gas is expected to rise "considerably" in the short term. As a result of tight pipe capacity for gas exports from western Wyoming, "five times during the fall of 2006 relatively minor changes in pipeline infrastructure led to significant price changes."

Second, safety considerations related to the age of pipes are adding to demand for new infrastructure. And finally, "market developments will influence the location of and need for new pipelines. One such example is the development of new resources in the Mountain West area, where additional pipeline capacity will be needed to transport new supplies to demand centers."

Two alternatives are proposed. In the "no action" plan, no land would be designated as an energy corridor. The second action would designate energy corridors on more than 6,000 miles of federal land across the West. The DPEIS does not consider project-specific activities because the proposed designation does not involve or direct the authorization of any specific projects.

"The agencies involved in designating these corridors worked for nearly two years to develop the locations presented in the draft EIS," said Assistant Secretary of the Interior C. Stephen Allred. "From the beginning, we were committed to avoiding the many unique areas and sensitive resources found on western public lands, wherever possible. Designating these corridors will minimize the dispersal of rights-of-way for energy transport projects across western landscapes."

The EPAct directed the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy and the Interior to designate energy transport corridors for pipelines and power facilities on federal lands in portions of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Environmental reviews had to be completed for the designation of the corridors, and the designated corridors had to be incorporated into the relevant agency land use and resource management plans or equivalent plans.

Eighty-four percent of the corridors proposed and analyzed in the DPEIS are located on BLM-managed lands; 14% are located on the Agriculture Department's Forest Service lands. The remaining lands are managed by Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service, or by the Department of Defense. The proposed corridors are agency-preferred locations for siting of future pipelines and transmission lines.

"The few locations where the proposed corridors could not avoid sensitive areas are located along existing transmission lines, highways, pipelines or other rights of way," the BLM stated.

"Meeting the nation's future energy needs will necessarily require some expansion of our capabilities for transporting energy resources," said Kevin M. Kolevar, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. "The infrastructure projects that could be constructed within these corridors may help assure the reliable delivery of electricity and fuels throughout the western United States."

Public meetings on the proposal will be held in each of the 11 states and in Washington, DC, beginning in January. To submit comments and to review the proposal and related documents, including detailed maps, visit the project website at http://corridoreis.anl.gov. The DPEIS is set to be published in the Federal Register on Friday (Nov. 16), which will initiate the 90-day public comment period.

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