Habitat conservation because of a natural gas pipeline? Two environmental organizations are promising just that, thanks to an unlikely partnership with a natural gas company.
The Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) reached a $20 million conservation agreement with the Huston-based El Paso Corp. over its proposed installation of the Ruby Pipeline, a 675-mile transmission line that would stretch from the Opal Hub in southwestern Wyoming to Malin, Oregon.
In the deal, El Paso plans to establish a $15 million conservation fund for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and a $5 million fund for the Oregon Natural Desert Association over a period of ten years.
In turn, WWP’s Executive Director Jon Marvel tells the Elko Daily Free Press, both groups have “agreed not to try to delay or litigate Ruby Pipeline.”
If completed, the pipeline will cross four Western states: Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon. In its initial design capacity it could stand to transport 1.5 billion cubic feet per day. The company estimates that its installation will cost about $3 billion, according to an official project summary. The project is currently awaiting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and approval from state historical preservation offices.
El Paso Western Pipeline Group President Jim Cleary tells Adella Harding of the Elko Daily Free Press that the agreement reflects “El Paso Corp.’s industry-leading commitment to environmental stewardship and to this end represents a significant component of the unprecedented voluntary mitigation efforts being applied to Ruby’s construction and operation.”
Both organizations already have big plans for their respective funds (which will not go directly to the organizations, instead to separate funds that will be be overseen by three-member boards.)
The Oregon group’s executive director Brent Fenty, said in the same article, “Protecting the area around Hart Mountain and Sheldon Refuges is critical to ensuring the survival of high desert species like sage grouse and pronghorn antelope.” The Hart-Sheldon conservation Fund could create restoration and conservation initiatives for 5 million acres of habitat.
The Western Watersheds Project, on the other hand, plans to focus almost exclusively on using the money to retire grazing permits by buying them from willing ranchers. The organization is first working on Congressional approval to allow federal agencies to retire these permits, however.
Marvel, a longtime opponent of grazing on public lands, argues that ending grazing along the pipeline would be better for wildlife, water quality, recreation and the environment. “It’s time to end public lands grazing,” he said.
Marvel tells the Green River Star, “These funds will be used to protect sage grouse habitat and the mule deer population in Wyoming.”
The deal is precedent setting and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the region’s ranching community, which has historically relied on public lands grazing.
David Sparks, a commentator for AgInfo.Net, lambasted the agreement, saying, “So let me get this straight. Marvel and WWP are on a legal crusade to stop the devastion of our public lands by cattlemen (who incidentally have been stewards of the land for over a century) but it’s OK to deal with oil and gas companies and let them have at the land. Gulf oil spill and the like…no big deal with $20 million in your hypocritical pocket.”