By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday ruled that federal wildlife authorities improperly certified the Ruby Pipeline Project without taking into account its impact on groundwater wells and certain fish species along the route.
The natural gas pipeline, which runs over 678 miles from Wyoming to Oregon, has already been completed. The pipeline is owned and operated by Kinder Morgan Inc.
Even though the pipeline is in service, it is still possible to mitigate its impact on the fish and critical habitats, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
A Kinder Morgan representative could not immediately comment.
According to the ruling, the Fish and Wildlife Service opined that the project would adversely affect nine fish species and five critical habitats. However, the service concluded that the pipeline would not jeopardize the species, and the Bureau of Land Management authorized the project.
A coalition of environmental groups challenged that decision. In its ruling, the 9th Circuit found that the authorization was arbitrary and capricious, partly because it did not take into account the potential impact of withdrawing 337.8 million gallons of groundwater from 64 wells along the pipeline.
The 9th Circuit sent the matter back to the Bureau of Land Management for further proceedings.
The case in the 9th Circuit is Center for Biological Diversity vs. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ruby Pipeline LLC, 10-72356.
(Reporting By Dan Levine; Editing by Bernard Orr)