Embattled Louisiana Oil Pipeline Is Complete, But the Fight Isn’t Over

A tiny preview of the realities of Cancer Alley. These are gas refineries in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, through where next week’s march will run.
Photo: AP

In Louisiana, the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline is finally complete. This Monday, it’s set to start transporting up to 480,000 barrels of oil a day between Nederland, Texas, and St. James, Louisiana. That doesn’t mean that its opponents are going to stop challenging this pipeline—and others like it—any time soon.

Owned by Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is the final piece of the extensive pipeline system that brings fracked crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota all the way to the Gulf. (This plumbing network also includes the now-infamous Dakota Access Pipeline.) The 163-mile Louisiana pipeline has faced heavy opposition from the community members who live closest to it, and would be impacted by any potential oil spills or explosions, since at least 2017.

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There’s a landowner upset that the pipeline company allegedly cut trees on his property without his permission. Indigenous-led activists who call themselves “water protectors” have taken direct action after direct action against the pipeline; their efforts motivated by the oil industry’s toll on the planet more broadly. There are also the environmentalists who want to protect the state’s splendid Atchafalaya Basin—the nation’s largest river swamp that spans some 15,000 acres—which the pipeline cuts right through.

A lawsuit was launched in federal district court to protect the basin in January 2018. The plaintiffs, including local environmental organization Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, are suing the Army Corps of Engineers for allegedly approving two key permits without proper environmental analysis. There’s still a chance that judge could decide that the approval didn’t follow federal laws, but that ruling could also be appealed, dragging the case on further.

“There’s a number of ways this could turn out,” Misha Mitchell, a counsel on the case and attorney with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, told Earther. “At this point, I’m not really sure which way it could go.”

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Mitchell hopes to see the pipeline hit pause if the judge rules that its approval was illegal, but she’s not confident it will. What’s certain is that the pipeline will begin moving oil through some of Louisiana’s most-polluted and predominantly black communities, in what’s known as Cancer Alley. In light of that reality, some residents are taking a renewed stand against the petrochemical industry.

On April 3, community members will march for five days from St. John the Baptist Parish all the way to the state capital in Baton Rouge. They want new fossil fuel infrastructure to end in the state, said Anne Rolfes, the director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade which also opposes the pipeline. Every evening on their journey, the marchers will light candles to honor individuals who’ve died at the hands of environmental pollution. When they finish their trek, they’ll celebrate with a rally outside the Louisiana State Capitol.

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Their ultimate goal is nothing less than a shutting down of the state’s fossil fuel industry over time by halting the construction of new projects. “We are calling for nothing new to be built,” Rolfes told Earther. “And I think that this movement has been built in a significant way because of Bayou Bridge.”

That won’t be easy to achieve, however. Louisiana is one of the top five natural gas producers in the U.S., and its refineries can process up to 3.3 million barrels of crude oil a day, according to the Energy Information Analysis.

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And Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is deep in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. Developer Energy Transfer Partners was the governor’s fifth largest donor in 2016 campaign with $5,000 over three payments, according to OpenSecrets. The oil and gas industry at large donated more than $138,000 in 2015, per Vote Smart, another donation dollar database.

Anti-fossil fuel activists have an uphill battle ahead of them, but in their view they have no choice. Their health, and the future of the planet, depends on it.

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Update: This article has been updated to clarify that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is calling for eliminating the state’s fossil fuel extraction over time by ceasing construction of new projects.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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