Energy Company May Have Illegally Altered Sensitive Canyon's Stream

Energy Company May Have Illegally Altered Sensitive Canyon's Stream

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah officials say a Denver-based energy company working in Nine Mile Canyon may have done work at stream c rossings without authorization.

Crews for Bill Barrett Corp. working amid the canyon's rich archaeological treasures allegedly replaced portions of its old natural-gas pipeline last fall across Nine Mile Creek in at least two locations not authorized by environmental regulators.

"It looks like there were stream crossings done without a permit," said Walt Baker, acting director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.

The Water Quality Division earlier this month sent one of its scientists to view the stream crossings and plans to visit the site again on June 1. Representatives from the Utah Division of Water Rights, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers plan to join that trip.

"We want to see if there's damage, if it's irreparable. We need to sort those things out," said Baker.

Bill Barrett Corp. officials on Friday said they were unaware of the investigations.

"This is news to us. We haven't been contacted by any agencies," Duane Zavadil, the company's environmental director, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Zavadil acknowledged his crews crossed the stream to replace portions of a pipeline, but added, "I don't have any recollection if we acquired a stream alteration permit for that crossing."

Daren Rasmussen, a stream-alteration specialist for the Division of Water Rights, confirmed his office has launched an inquiry into possible "unauthorized activities" by Bill Barrett Corp. in Nine Mile Canyon, about 20 miles northeast of Price and about 100 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Several photographs of the stream crossings suggest the company did not follow so-called "best management practices" and may have been negligent, Rasmussen said.

State law requires a Division of Water Rights permit for any construction in a streambed. But there is no record that Bill Barrett Corp., which has procured permits for roads that crossed the stream, applied for permits for the pipeline to cross the stream.

Failure to procure a stream-alteration permit is a class B misdemeanor, but Richard Hall, a Division of Water Rights manager, said his agency usually tries to avoid prosecution.

The company also may have been required to consult with -- and possibly obtain permits from -- the Army Corps of Engineers, said Jason Gipson, regulatory project manager for the corps' Utah office.

Gipson said his office, like the Fish and Wildlife Service, is concerned about possible impacts to wetlands and endangered species. The Green River, of which Nine Mile Creek is a tributary, is home to four endangered fish species.

Bill Barrett Corp. has been closely scrutinized for its proposed projects in Nine Mile Canyon, renowned for American Indian pictographs and artifacts, some of which date back thousands of years.

In March, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management authorized the company's plans to use helicopters, explosives and thumper trucks to pinpoint deposits of natural gas more than 10,000 feet below the surface in a 57,500-acre swath of public land on the West Tavaputs Plateau.

Environmentalists have asked a federal judge to stop the project pending further analysis. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Thursday.

The BLM also is reviewing a Bill Barrett proposal to drill 22 gas wells on state and federal lands near Nine Mile Canyon and to replace a pipeline inside the canyon.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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