The Battle Over the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Is Heating Up

The Atchafalaya Basin
The Atchafalaya Basin
Photo: Roberto Marchegiani (Flickr)

A federal judge ordered a halt to construction on part of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on Friday.

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The 163-mile crude oil pipeline in Louisiana would connect to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline that drew crowds of protesters to North Dakota in 2016. Developer Energy Transfer Partners completed its 1,172-mile project to the north, but this last southern leg is seeing a bit more pushback early on from the courts.

The court-ordered injunction has been a point of celebration for those opposing the pipeline. When groups like Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and the Sierra Club filed the lawsuit in January, they requested an injunction—and they got it pretty quickly. U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick issued the injunction so quickly that she still hasn’t released an opinion on why, which isn’t uncommon, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman told Earther.

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“It takes a while to get these things out,” he said. “If it takes another two weeks to issue an opinion, well, a lot of the harm will have occurred already.”

The fact Dick issued the injunction at all, however, shows she expects the lawsuit to prevail, a factor required for her to issue a preliminary injunction, Hasselman explained. It also shows that the judge believes halting construction is in the public interest and that this construction would cause irreparable harm.

This lawsuit is trying to avoid harm to the Atchafalaya Basin, in particular. This swampy region is home to a long list of migratory birds and ancient cypress and tupelo trees. The section of the pipeline that runs through these wetlands is the only section where construction must stop for now. That still leave the areas near other sections of the pipeline vulnerable. This includes sections of the pipe where, well, people live.

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Earther reached out to developers Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Phillips for comment and will update if and when they respond. They already filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit, which will ultimately determine if this injunction gets thrown out.

Cherri Foytlin is an indigenous woman of Diné and Cherokee heritage who helped launch a resistance camp against the pipeline over the summer: L’eau Est La Vie Camp (“water is life” in the indigenous-colonial Houma French language). This camp is based to the southwest of the basin, so while Foytlin works in coalition with the groups that filed this lawsuit, she’s more focused on the communities near the camp like the United Houma Nation. She expects construction there to pick up speed now that construction is supposed to stop near the basin.

“A lot of people, especially those who don’t live in these areas will feel more sympathy for the trees and birds and all that,” Foytlin told Earther. “I love all that stuff. I’ll protect that, too, but, unfortunately, the people who live outside of [the basin] aren’t being allowed the same respect and protection. And it’s really sad.”

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Like opponents to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Foytlin is concerned about drinking water pollution in the case of a spill from Bayou Bridge. The United Houma Nation in Louisiana and thousands of other people who live south of the proposed pipeline route could lose their drinking water source if that happens. The nation itself hasn’t taken a stance, but members and tribal representatives have been vocally against the project.

These three protesters (Benjamin Quimby, Meg Logue, Pipen Frisbie-Calder) halted construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline February 26, 2018, near Belle Rose, Louisiana.
These three protesters (Benjamin Quimby, Meg Logue, Pipen Frisbie-Calder) halted construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline February 26, 2018, near Belle Rose, Louisiana.
Photo: Anne Rolfes (Louisiana Bucket Brigade)
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This opposition is picking up steam, too. Anne Rolfes, the executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, was out on a construction site in Belle Rose, LA, Monday to halt construction on a different part of the pipeline. She and roughly 20 others—three of whom were arrested around noon by Assumption Parish Sheriff’s officers—got muddy as they confronted the construction workers with some doughnuts and a note.

“We think the oil industry should hire thousands more people to fix broken and leaking pipelines, abandoned oil wells, rusty refineries, and all the other infrastructure that’s falling apart,” the note read. “There are lots of jobs that do not require new pipelines and more destruction of Louisiana.”

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Whether the workers agreed, who knows, but construction did pause, according to Rolfes. Sometimes, you need a court-issued injunction. Other times, you just need some good, old-fashioned civil disobedience.

“This action was inspired by this bad idea to build the pipeline,” Rolfes told Earther. “Our plan all along was to keep this pipeline from being built.”

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

From Atchafalaya Basin Keepers v. USACE

This is what the environmental groups will have to prove to the court (from above link):

Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Corps violated the CWA, RHA, and NEPA when it issued the December 14, 2017 permits and authorizations, and an order vacating those decisions pending full compliance with the law. Plaintiffs further seek injunctive relief to prevent irreparable harm pending the Corps’ compliance with law. 

Environmental law is kind of a big deal. It’s important that folks of letters look into it, instead of engineers like me acting all LA Law-ish. On the other hand, environmental consultants and engineers do end up on the business end of law from time to time. Or get dragged in by lawyers to entertain them with nerd talk.

At this point only god knows until an opinion is drafted.

Environmental groups should be happy with Trump. He’s proposing a 22% cut in USACE civil works budget: down from $6.2 to $4.8 billion. Who knows, maybe oil and gas midstream will soon be able to bypass USACE as a maritime government agent. And just build the fucker as is. And maybe Pruitt will add a rider to complete gut NEPA. If that happens, folks will have a lot to complain about.