The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has requested that FERC look at alternative routes for Kinder Morgan's proposed Sierrita Pipeline Project, which is slated to connect with a new pipeline in Northern Mexico at the U.S. border. The recommendation was included in DOI's comments on the pipeline project's draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

DOI said it is concerned about impacts on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in the southern portion of the Altar Valley from the proposed 59-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline that would deliver natural gas to southwestern markets in the United States and high-growth power generation markets in northern Mexico.

"We are concerned about the short- and long-term environmental impacts this project will have both on and off the refuge," said Patricia Sanderson Port, DOI regional environmental officer, adding that the entire 25 miles of refuge, which was created in 1985, lies within the watershed of the project.

"It is our preference that other alternative routes be further investigated," Port said. "Although alternate routes were analyzed in the [favorable] DEIS [see Daily GPI, Oct. 25, 2013], it is concerning that Sierrita did not pursue alternate pipeline 'connecting points' with Mexico other than Sasabe, AZ."

In December, environmental groups in desert lands between Tucson, AZ, and Mexico asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reject the current DEIS (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2013).

Going back to late in 2012, when the project was called the "Sasabe Lateral Pipeline Project" concerns were being raised by local parties, and a collaborative conservation group composed of ranchers and agricultural interests, the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, urged that an alternative route and entry point into Mexico be found.

Last month, a Houston-based Kinder Morgan spokesperson told NGI that requirements of the pipeline's customers in the project mandate that Sasabe be the terminus of the Sierrita Lateral in order for it to connect with a pipeline being built in Mexico by a unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy.

DOI is asking FERC to make sure not only that alternative routes be reconsidered, but also a "comparison of all the appropriate threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats" be completed, along with more discussion and analysis of the cumulative effects from various environmental impacts as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act.

While DOI acknowledges that the Sierrita projects' proposed right-of-way (ROW) does not cross the wildlife refuge, the project sponsors have requested use of roads in the refuge to access the ROW. The national refuge has not approved the request, and the process for obtaining a special use permit will not be completed until March, according to DOI.

DOI also said project sponsors estimate construction time at four months, but in the DEIS, the estimate is for eight months. "We recommend providing more clarity regarding this determination in the final EIS," DOI said.

In stressing the need to examine alternate routes more closely, Port said existing utility corridors "would be more conducive for this project." She recommended that those corridors be further investigated.

In the October 2013-released DEIS, FERC staff indicated that the document was based on a review of information provided by Kinder Morgan's Sierrita unit and further developed from data requests. The staff acknowledged that approval of the project would have "some adverse environmental impacts," but said the impacts would be reduced to "less-than-significant levels."