North Baja Pipeline Gets Preliminary Environmental Nod

The proposed North Baja Pipeline for gas delivery to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico has gotten a preliminary environmental go-ahead from FERC staff, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the California State Lands Commission (CSLC).

Although "we have determined that the project would result in certain adverse environmental impacts," the federal and state agencies said "appropriate and reasonable" mitigation measures were developed that would "significantly reduce" these adverse effects, especially during the construction phase. They recommended that any certificate awarded to the North Baja Pipeline be conditioned on compliance with all the mitigation measures outlined in the draft environmental impact statement, environmental impact review and land-use plan amendment prepared cooperatively by the staffs of FERC, BLM and CSLC.

The environmental nod comes two months after the FERC issued a preliminary determination (PD) on the non-environmental aspects of the North Baja project, which will carry up to 500 MMcf/d from a connection with El Paso Natural Gas near Ehrenberg, AZ, to fuel power plants and gas distribution systems in northern Mexico and southern California.

FERC awarded the PD for the 80-mile U.S. leg of the 215-mile pipeline. The U.S. portion of the line would extend from border-crossing facilities near Yuma, AZ, to Mexicali, Baja California, in Mexico. The Mexican government already has issued a transportation permit to Sempra Energy International to build the 135-mile Mexican portion, Gasoducto Bajanorte. The U.S. part of the pipeline project is owned by PG&E Gas Transmission Holdings Corp., and is expected to cost about $146 million.

The staffs of FERC, BLM and CSLC said they agreed the North Baja pipeline project "would be an environmentally acceptable action" because: 1) most of the project's impact would occur during the construction phase and would be temporary or short term; 2) about 81% of the proposed pipeline route would be in or adjacent to various existing rights-of-way and/or within a designated utility corridor; the pipeline will implement its Construction Mitigation and Restoration Plan to protect natural resources during the construction and operation of the project; it will use the directional drill method to avoid disturbances to the bed and banks of the Colorado River and All American Canal, the only two water bodies to be crossed by the project; and it will consent with the appropriate federal and state agencies before starting construction.

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