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Unique Team Fights Pipeline

Environmental group WildEarth Guardians and rancher Tweeti Blancett have challenged the federal government's approval of an eight-mile natural gas pipeline in San Juan County

The pipeline, which was approved by the Bureau of Land Management to handle production from future wells, could harm bald eagles and mule deer and impact livestock grazing, according to the challenge.

"Just as livestock are dying from oil and gas operations, so, too, are wildlife," said rancher Chris Velasquez, whose BLM grazing allotment the pipeline would cross.

The pipeline route would cross buffer areas for two bald eagle "areas of critical environmental concern" as well as an area designated as mule deer and elk habitat. The Farmington area provides winter habitat for more than 100 bald eagles, a federally threatened species.

The BLM said the pipeline would not impact bald eagles because no eagles were found in the area in August, but eagles were seen there last week, said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

The project could damage habitat and cause a decline of eagle prey. Potential pipeline leaks and noise from pump jacks are also a concern, Rosmarino said.

WildEarth Guardians, Blancett and Velasquez want the BLM to reroute the pipeline out of sensitive areas. They asked State Director Linda Rundell to review the approval.

Rundell hasn't had time to evaluate the request, BLM spokesman Hans Stuart said Friday.

The challenge marks the first time WildEarth Guardians and ranchers have teamed up to fight oil and gas development, Rosmarino said.

Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal - Reprinted with permission


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