CASPER, Wyo. -- El Paso Corp. didn't expect the backlash it got for striking a deal with environmentalists over a Wyoming-to-Oregon gas pipeline, a company spokesman said.
El Paso subsidiary Ruby Pipeline LLC began the $3 billion project this month. The 680-mile pipeline will begin at Opal in western Wyoming and cross northern Utah and Nevada before ending at Malin, Ore.
El Paso struck a deal with Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association that set up two trusts totaling $22 million to buy out federal grazing allotments to protect wildlife near the pipeline route. State and local officials oppose the deal, calling it a threat to communities along the pipeline.
"We did not expect the backlash we have received from the counties and states concerning our agreements with Western Watersheds," company spokesman Richard Wheatley said Monday.
Opposition to the pipeline left El Paso no choice but to strike a deal, he said.
El Paso also recently established a $15 million endowment to the Public Lands Council. That endowment seeks to promote grazing on public lands.
"The issue of importance from our point of view is that the opposition from counties and states is one that transcends the issues of the environment and the Western Watersheds Project and their operations," Wheatley said.
County governments across four Western states say El Paso betrayed their support by striking the conservation trust deal at the last minute. Lincoln County Commissioner Kent Connelly said the economy and heritage in western Wyoming rely on public land grazing.
"That's our heartburn with it," Connelly said. "The Western Watersheds money is going to put us in court."
The private contract between El Paso and Western Watersheds was not part of the public review process conducted by the Federal Regulatory Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management, he said.
He said the contract didn't take into consideration socio-economic and cultural effects of the project.
"That document should have been up front for the public," Connelly said. "That's an impact economically and socially for all the counties involved. The public never got a chance."
Several entities filed administrative appeals of the BLM's approval of the pipeline, including Lincoln, Sweetwater, Sublette and Uinta counties in Wyoming.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a court motion to stop the project. A Nevada chapter of the Sierra Club filed an administrative appeal at the Interior Board of Land Appeals.