I-Team: BP Connected to Wild Horse Roundups? - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: BP Connected to Wild Horse Roundups?

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LAS VEGAS -- The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has put a laser focus on BP and their operations all over the planet. Turns out, the oil giant has left a trail of toxic waste in Nevada. But is there also a BP link to wild horse roundups?

Federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Minerals Management Service, and Fish and Wildlife have been accused of looking the other way as BP skirted environmental rules and safety standards in the gulf and elsewhere.

For a long time, critics of the Department of the Interior have alleged that oil and gas companies, and other industries, are allowed to run roughshod over public lands, plundering what should be public resources. So, would it be a surprise if it happened here?

The BLM's Calico Hills roundup last winter proved to be the bloodiest mustang operation in memory. The government captured 1,800 wild horses from half a million rugged and remote acres in northern Nevada. More than 100 horses died, some at the roundup site, most at the holding facility. In addition, dozens of pregnant mares aborted their young.

Wild horse advocates are used to seeing horses removed from the public range to make room for cattle, but they began to suspect another possible motive.

"The fact of the matter is, there appears to be a connection between the Ruby Pipeline and the removal of the Calico wild horses," said filmmaker and naturalist Ginger Kathrens.

Kathrens was perplexed why BLM would proceed with a roundup, against the advice of a federal judge, in the dead of winter, and when the BLM's own reports indicated there was little or no justification for the operation on the range itself. The horses and the land were in good shape.

She and others started focusing on plans for the Ruby Pipeline, a gigantic project to transport natural gas from Wyoming to Oregon while slicing through five separate herd areas. The 42 inch pipe would require a six foot trench nearly 700 miles long and a parallel, all-weather access road through land that has no roads.

The implications for horses and wildlife were obvious. The pipeline company, El Paso Corporation, left some hints in the paperwork it filed. 

"In the documents they supplied to FERC, it talks about the removal of wild horses in the course of conducting their project. So why in the world would we not be suspicious," said Kathrens.

In April, suspicions peaked when the project coordinator for the pipeline told a reporter that "All hell would break loose" once the plan was approved, and that the pristine land along the route would "look like Hiroshima." Would that be a reason to thin out the horse herds? The BLM and El Paso both vigorously deny the Calico roundup was related in any way to the pipeline, but it is clear from documents that the mustangs were discussed by both at several points in the permitting process.

An alternative pipeline route was considered that would bypass the herd areas and go through land already disturbed, but it would have cost more. BLM approved the plan that would be cheaper for El Paso but more costly for the land.

"We are the Bureau of Land Management, not the Bureau of Wildlife, not the Bureau of Horses," said BLM district manager Gene Seidlitz.

In BLM's management of public lands, wild horses almost always lose out to economic interests, especially livestock interests. But BLM has also been good to the oil and gas industries, and the Ruby Pipeline will be a huge money maker, according to company projections, not only for El Paso but for the gas companies.

As it turns out, one of the largest users will be BP. A contract obtained by the website AboveTopSecret spells it out.

As the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis has demonstrated, the Department of Interior has previously bent over backwards to benefit BP and other oil producers. And even if it's not the case here, it's fair to ask questions.

"We have a perfect right to wonder about all this stuff," said Kathrens.

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