Representing the interests of people who use, visit, study and rely on the Atchafalaya Great River Swamp, several groups have asked a Louisiana federal district court to vacate a recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that would allow the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline to be constructed through the Atchafalaya Basin and through hundreds of Louisiana’s streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and bayous.
This project is a 163-mile extension of the existing Bayou Bridge crude pipeline currently in service from Nederland, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. It would extend the pipeline from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to a terminalling facility in St. James, Louisiana, delivering an initial capacity of approximately 280,000 barrels per day with the ability to increase deliveries to 480,000 per day. Crude from the St. James facilities would be redistributed to refineries located in the Baton Rouge area.
Many prominent Louisianans have endorsed the project, including Governor John Bel Edwards, elected representatives at the State level, and industry groups like the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The project was permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December 2017. However, opponents feel the pipeline extension is a threat to the region.
“Not only is the Atchafalaya Basin the most important ecosystem for neotropical migratory birds in the western hemisphere, but it is also critically important to protect much of south Louisiana and the Mississippi valley from major river floods. By allowing unsustainable development in the Basin, we are endangering hundreds of cities and communities and millions of people in southern Louisiana,” proclaims Dean Wilson, Executive Director of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.
Supporters point out that “88% of the pipeline, including the entire crossing of the Atchafalaya Basin, will parallel existing infrastructure” and that will include safety features, such as “buoyancy control devices,” and that it “will be buried at a minimum of 48 inches.” In an infograph, the company behind the project (Bayou Bridge, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners) notes that they would also utilize sensing devices along the pipeline that send data every 15 seconds to 15 minutes, along with other inspection tools and techniques.
Supporters also point out that the company building the pipeline is “committed to restoring 100% of the affected area – at the company’s own expense – if there are any impacts from construction or during long term operations.”
However, several groups—Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association (West), Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club and their lawyers at Earthjustice—filed a lawsuit on 11 January 2017 to keep construction of the pipeline from moving forward. The lawsuit claims that the 162-mile pipeline would pose a serious threat, with risks of oil spills into wetlands, rivers and lakes; as well as the potential for permanent destruction of invaluable cypress and tupelo river swamps.
“Oil and gas pipelines, and the spoil banks and canals associated with their construction, have degraded or destroyed extensive portions of the Basin’s wetlands and waterways,” the complaint reads.
The complaint also states, “The Atchafalaya River is the largest distributary of the Mississippi River, and forms part of the great Mississippi River Delta. Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast states that “the Mississippi River Delta provides at least $12 billion to $47 billion in benefits to people each year. If this natural capital were treated like an economic asset, its total economic benefit to the nation would be $330 billion to $1.3 trillion per year.”
Bayou Bridge, LLC, acknowledges that protests are likely. In a media statement, they said, “We were recently made aware that Louisiana Rise, a local non-profit advocacy organization, has purchased property along the route of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on which we have an existing easement agreement that allows us to legally construct the pipeline. This easement agreement was negotiated with the prior owner of the property, and, under Louisiana law, the easement remains in full force following transfer of the property. As a result, we are lawfully entitled to bring construction equipment onto the property and to construct the pipeline, pursuant to the terms of the easement.
“Additionally, as part of our project planning and pipeline route analysis, we retained cultural experts to conduct cultural and archeological surveys along the pipeline route, including the easement area on this property. These experts determined that there were no sites of historic or cultural significance on the property now owned by Louisiana Rise.
“It is our understanding that Louisiana Rise has communicated plans to establish a cultural learning and ceremony space on the property, with the lauded goal of providing education and community services to local Louisianans. While we applaud these efforts, we have learned they also plan to stage protests against our project. We understand there are wide-ranging opinions on infrastructure projects, such as our pipeline project, and we respect the right of all Americans to lawfully protest. We hope and expect that any protest activities will be peaceful, and, we welcome cooperation among protesters, local law enforcement agencies, and our construction personnel to ensure the safety of all parties during our construction activities.
“As an update on the progress of our project, the acquisition of our pipeline right-of-way is nearly complete, with more than 98% of easements secured through voluntary easement agreements with each respective landowner. The effort to secure the remaining parcels is nearing completion. We look forward to beginning construction upon receiving all the necessary permits.”