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Draft EIS Issued for Ruby Pipeline Project

FERC staff on Friday issued the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for El Paso Corp.'s proposed Ruby Pipeline Project, which would be capable of transporting up to 1.5 million Dth/d of natural gas about 675 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast.

Based on the analysis by staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), "construction and operation of the Ruby Pipeline Project would result in some adverse environmental impacts. However, most of these would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Ruby's proposed mitigation measures" [Docket No. CP09-54-000].

El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley told NGI Friday that everything continues as planned for the pipeline to be in service in 2011.

"We are proceeding as we have been on the Ruby project," he said. "We are pleased by the FERC's timely issuance of the DEIS and look forward to the next steps in outreach and project development that the DEIS sets in motion."

El Paso filed with FERC to build the estimated $3 billion pipe in January (see NGI, Feb. 2). The 42-inch diameter pipeline, as designed, would carry gas from Wyoming to southeast Oregon to connect with existing north-south interstate pipelines.

El Paso last year secured more than 1.1 Bcf/d in binding 10- and 15-year contract commitments (see NGI, June 30, 2008). Last month Jim Cleary, president of El Paso's Western Pipelines segment, confirmed that the 1.1 Bcf/d of firm transportation capacity under 10-15 year agreements was still in place (see NGI, May 11).

For El Paso executives, one of the few remaining questions about the Ruby project is whether to phase in the project with three instead of four compressors. With a phased-in project, El Paso would ramp up a 1.3 Bcf/d capacity pipeline. If four compressors were built before the ramp-up, the pipe would begin with 1.5 Bcf/d of capacity, Cleary explained last month.

"Depending on the ultimate size, we have another 200 to 400 MMcf/d to sell," Cleary said.

The DEIS, which was prepared in consultation with federal agencies, which included the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and the U.S. Forest Service, addresses the potential environmental effects of all of the proposed project facilities.

"We considered two newly proposed interstate pipelines as possible system alternatives to the Ruby Pipeline Project, the proposed Pacific Connector Pipeline Project and the planned Sunstone Pipeline Project," the DEIS noted. "However, our review found that neither the Pacific Connector Project nor the Sunstone Project would be reasonable alternatives to Ruby.

"Pacific Connector would not meet Ruby's stated objective of alleviating bottlenecking of gas supplies in the Rocky Mountain region by connecting those supplies with demand on the West Coast. At this time, the viability of the Sunstone Project is in question. Further, if approved, the Sunstone Project would terminate about 300 miles to the north of Ruby, requiring that substantial additional pipeline facilities be built to deliver gas to the Malin Market Center in southern Oregon near the California state line."

FERC staff considered using "existing pipeline systems, the Williams Northwest and Kern River systems, to move Rocky Mountain gas to the west," the DEIS noted. "However, neither of these pipelines have the capacity available on their existing systems to accommodate the volumes that would be transported by the Ruby Pipeline Project, and both systems would be required to construct facilities similar to those proposed by Ruby in order to expand their systems from the Rocky Mountain region to the West Coast and Northern Nevada."

Several areas along the proposed Ruby route were identified as having a "moderate to high potential for containing significant paleontological resources," and Ruby officials plan to implement a mitigation plan to monitor and address any significant fossil discoveries.

A "cooperative effort" is ongoing between Ruby, the FWS, the BLM and state agencies to discuss habitat quality, conservation and mitigation strategies for the project, the DEIS noted. FERC staff and other officials determined that the project "may affect 13 federally listed species," and project-related water depletions of the Colorado River drainage basin are "likely to adversely affect four of the federally listed fish species Colorado pike minnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub)."

FERC plans to consult with the FWS about the four fish species and will ask FWS to prepare a biological opinion "as to whether or not the Ruby Pipeline Project would likely jeopardize the continued existence of these species. Ruby would not be authorized to contribute to depletion of water in the Colorado River Basin until formal consultation with the FWS is complete."

Ruby officials have committed to measures to minimize impacts on the habitats of pygmy rabbit and greater sage grouse, which include realigning the pipeline, preconstruction surveys, construction buffers, timing restrictions and specific revegetation activities, the DEIS noted.

Ruby, the FWS, the BLM and appropriate state agencies also are discussing habitat quality, conservation and mitigation strategies for the project and are developing a Candidate Conservation Agreement for the greater sage grouse and pygmy rabbit.

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