South Louisiana Pipelines: A Controversy of Steel, Oil and Water

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Concern has increased about whether South Louisiana pipelines cause environmental pollution is a matter subsequent to the famous pipeline opposition to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and environmental activists gained national attention with protests near their reservation in South Dakota. Although pipeline construction halted upon government orders in the Fall of 2016, President Donald Trump signed executive orders in January 2017 that permitted efforts to complete the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

While crude oil finally flowed through the Dakota Access Pipeline in early June 2017, trouble brewed in Louisiana behind the Bayou Bridge Pipeline extension project.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), The Dakota Access pipeline project’s builder, also owns the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. The company asserts it is cheaper to move oil through pipelines than by trains, citing that it reduces the likelihood that explosions will happen. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is “already in service from Nederland, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana.” The current 163-mile, 2-inch pipe, Bayou Bridge Pipeline project will extend the pipeline; it will originate at the terminal hub in Lake Charles, Louisiana and end at the St. James terminal hub. The pipeline will eventually connect to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On December 14, 2017, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued several permits to ETP for the 163-mile pipeline project through south Louisiana, and the Department of Environmental Quality issued a water quality certificate. However the pipeline has sparked concern from environmental groups about the safety track record of ETP and the impact of another pipeline tracing through the Atchafalaya Basin. Environmentalists have displayed their opposition by a series of protests. ETP stated that it will continue to follow all applicable permits to build and operate the project.

 

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a joint venture between ETP and Phillips 66 Partners, LP, in which Energy Transfer has a 60% ownership interest and serves as the operator of the pipeline, indicates ETP’s website. “Phase I of the pipeline, from Nederland, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, went into service in April 2016. Phase II of the pipeline, from Lake Charles, Louisiana to St. James, Louisiana, is expected to be completed in the second half of 2018.” Most of the new segment of pipeline will parallel existing infrastructure such as other pipelines, power lines, or roads, according to bayoubridge.com. Additionally, the entire length of the pipe parallels existing utilities across the Atchafalaya Basin.

ETP also suggests that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries better access to North American crude and will help diversify the supply of crude oil. In addition, the pipeline project is expected to generate about 2,500 construction jobs, and support many other local businesses. Another benefit is that all the pipe used in the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is sourced right in Louisiana, from Stupp Corporation headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. ETP pledges that “all construction areas will be restored to pre-construction contours and elevations, with a particular focus on conservation of the Atchafalaya Basin.”

 

STEEL CAN STILL LEAK

However, many residents living along the pipeline’s route and environmental groups such as  Atchafalaya Basinkeeper are not convinced by ETP’s assurance. The group claimed that Louisiana’s “wetlands are filled with spoil banks, and regulatory agencies have failed in enforcing environmental law.” They are requesting a remedy for problems caused by previous pipelines, such as massive silting.

ETP assures that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will be built to protect Louisiana wetlands despite allegations made by opponents of the extension project. The company also asserts that areas through which the pipeline passes will be restored back to preconstruction elevation and contours. “There will be no spoil banks created as a result of construction, all excavated materials will be returned to the trench, and water flow will be returned to as good as or better conditions than they had before the pipeline,” indicates bayoubridge.com, a site owned by ETP to clarify false allegations made towards the company.

Opponents have argued that the pipeline could endanger wildlife in the basin if possible failures resulted in an oil spill. On the other hand, ETP asserts that all pipes on agricultural lands, wetlands and the Atchafalaya Basin will be buried a minimum of 48 inches. When completed, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will be capable of transporting up to 480,000 barrels per day of light and heavy crude oil from different sources to the St. James crude oil hub, where major refineries are located in the Gulf Coast region.

 

According to the Association of  Oil Pipelines (AOPL), crude oil pipelines are known as liquids pipelines because the delivered products are in a liquid state when they are in the pipeline. They deliver crude oil from production regions to storage hubs and refineries. Refined petroleum products pipelines deliver gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products from refineries to local distribution centers. The United States has the world’s largest network of pipelines-more than 70,000 miles of crude oil pipelines, mostly buried, which carry several billion of barrels of oil from production fields to refineries yearly. Pipelines are the safest, most efficient method of transporting natural resources, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that U.S. crude oil production has increased by 3 million barrels per day since early 2011 and is expected to grow another 3.1 million barrels by 2019. Therefore, U.S. pipelines are extending their mileage and increasing volumes delivered to meet this challenge. However, in this vast network of pipes, which transports oil, corroded metal or a maintenance problem in an aging pipe can result in a leak or spill. Corrosion in aging pipes can also occur in new pipelines.

Nearly three million gallons of oil has spilled from pipelines in the U.S. since 1986, according to data collected by the Center for Biological Diversity. An analysis of federal data by the Associated Press (AP) found that increased despite that the number of significant accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines per year has increased by almost 60 percent, matching a similar increase in U.S. crude oil production. Pipeline leaks are caused by several factors including human error, equipment failure, and corrosion.

The AP analysis also included information from the  according from the federal office that oversees pipeline safety, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It indicates there have been more than 2,000 significant incidents involving pipelines carrying crude oil and refined petroleum products that have caused about $3 billion in property damage since 1995.

According to a report released by environmental groups, Greenspeace USA and the WaterKeeper Alliance, ETP and Phillips 66 had had 527 hazardous incidents, including spills, between 2002 and 2017, based off data compiled by federal and state regulators. The report also indicates that spills caused an estimated $115 million in property damage and resulted in 106 violation notices and the levying of $5.7 million in penalties from the federal agency that regulates pipeline operations, said the report. Energy Transfer Partners merged with Sunoco Inc. in October 2012, and the report includes incidents involving that company as well.

 

BATTLE FOR THE BASIN

The issue of oil and water resulted in legal action on January 11, 2018, when environmental groups and local crawfishermen interested in preserving and protecting the Atchafalaya Basin filed a lawsuit against U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) authorized the pipeline’s construction and operation in violation of federal statutes –Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Act and National Environmental Protection Act and their governing regulations. “The construction and operation of the pipeline, as authorized by the Corps, threatens plaintiffs’ health, environmental and economic well-being,” according to the lawsuit.

ETP assures that its core values as a company is environmental stewardship – not only because it is good business, but because it is the right thing to do, according to its website bayoubridge.com. The company also affirmed that its highly skilled engineers, environmental scientists, wildlife biologists and geologists design their pipelines to follow the safest routes with the least environmental impact. ETP stated that its Bayou Bridge Pipeline project is also  committed to the safety of the community, workers and the environment during construction and operation of the pipeline. According to the website, extra safety features that exceed federal requirements and will ensure the least impact to the environment and local communities along the pipeline route.

ETP officials are also working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, other regulatory agencies and local stakeholders to “ensure that Louisiana’s environmental resources – and the diversity of species that inhabit them – are protected from any impacts.” ETP also claimed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded the project will have no adverse effects to threatened or endangered species.

 

IN AND OUT OF THE COURTS

The efforts of environmental groups and local crawfishermen are in full swing.  Shortly after mid-January 2018, a Baton Rouge judge dismissed a lawsuit against Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC.,  the company behind the construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which is owned by ETP and Phillips 66, according to WAFB 9 News. The judge said in court that Bayou Bridge, LLC. is a private company with no public funding and therefore does not have to release their plans to the public. However, activists insist that the company needs to be transparent because it is using the state to construct the project through waterways.

 

In late January 2018, a federal judge also rejected to order a temporary halt to construction of the pipeline through the Atchafalaya Basin, which was considered a setback for environmental groups challenging the project. In late February, the same federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to halt further Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin to “prevent further irreparable harm” from the project, until the lawsuit was resolved.  In a preliminary injunction hearing February 8 – 9, 2018, the courts took evidence and heard arguments from those groups, according to katc.com.  The ruling was based off of the those arguments. The company appealed the injunction, according to Reuters.

The injunction was an important victory for opponents of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, but Bayou Bridge Pipeline  LLC., requested a federal appeals court to lift an order that halted further construction of the pipeline. Judges in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans suspended the previous order of the federal judge in Baton Rouge, pending their final decision. The federal court heard an appeal by the Corps and Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC. in late April regarding a lower court judge’s order that halted construction through the Atchafalaya Basin. The hearing pertained to whether the suspension should be thrown out or reinstated. More news coverage is expected regarding the ongoing litigation. Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC. expects to complete the construction project by October 2018 if a federal appeals court does not order another halt to the work.

 

Although federal judges may support construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, the 23rd judicial district judge ruled that the state, in issuing its permit, did not adequately consider protocol in case of an emergency that could affect a minority community along the pipeline, reported The Advocate Newspaper.  St. James residents, represented by Tulane University lawyers, sued the state Department of Natural Resources, arguing the state was negligent in issuing a permit for the project before having an approved emergency response plan in the event of an environmental catastrophe. In St. James, opponents have specifically noted that the state is quick to wave through oil and gas infrastructure, as long as they’re in minority communities.

 

“The permit application does not include an emergency response plan nor does it address potential spills that may occur after construction once the pipeline is operational. The Department of Natural Resources did not consider the potential pollution, noise and traffic in the St. James community, an area which is largely populated by African Americans,” the St. James jurist’s decision stated. The ruling was another victory celebrated by the pipeline construction’s opponents.

 

On June 1 2018, the Department of Natural Resources executive counsel stated in a letter to an attorney representing groups opposing the pipeline that it had no plans to halt construction of the pipeline through St. James Parish. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 6, 2018, that construction can continue and vacated a lower court’s preliminary injunction blocking construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. The panel’s 2-1 decision was a victory for Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC. The project is expected to be completed in October 2018.

 

PROTESTS, ARRESTS AND ALLEGED VANDALISM

 

Environmental groups and crawfishermen have publicly and peacefully, for the most part, expressed their opposition of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin over the course of several months. Unfortunately, one particular protest led to the arrest of several protesters in April 2018.  Environmental protesters gathered on the side of Highway 70 in the parish, and several temporarily halted work on the pipeline near Belle Rose, Louisiana, as they blocked machinery. Three protesters were each booked into jail in Assumption Parish on three counts: resisting arrest, criminal trespass and remaining on property after being asked to leave.

 

A media statement from Bayou Pipeline LLC. indicated that one of its contractors was a victim of vandalism in late March 2018, according to the company’s website. The crime allegedly resulted in significant damage to construction equipment in Assumption Parish. Bayou Bridge LLC. Is also offering a $10,000 reward for tips the lead to an arrest for the crime. In addition, the company cited that the vandalism may cause potentially harmful environmental impacts. In its statement, the company also pointed out that it respects the rights to peacefully protest, but destroying equipment is not a peaceful protest. An investigation into the incident in cooperation with local law enforcement is underway, according to bayoubridge.com. The company reiterated that construction continues in compliance with all of its permit conditions.

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LAFAYETTE LOUISIANA ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION LAWYERS

 

Louisiana Environmental Destruction Lawyers Joseph Joy and Gordon Schoeffler have successfully litigated  Louisiana environmental damage claims that involve the Atchafalaya Basin. The Oil and Drilling Industry has destroyed portions of the Atchafalaya Basin fisheries. Economic losses impact Louisiana citizens whose livelihoods are related to those waterways and/or properties that are damaged or destroyed by businesses’ environmental destruction and toxic waste. Those impacted include Louisiana fishermen and crawfishermen, famers, landowners, property developers and sportsmen.

Our Lafayette Louisiana attorneys have extensive experience representing people injured by exposure to toxic substances and other environmental hazards, including groundwater contamination. The transportation of hazardous substances  by large corporations can injure workers as well as the general public unless proper precautions are taken. Our attorneys file lawsuits for individuals who were physically and psychologically injured. Louisiana citizens may suffer serious illness when exposed to toxic waste created by negligent businesses that harm or destroy the environment.

At Joseph Joy and Associates, your health is our concern. If you are affected by a business that has caused environmental destruction or is responsible for an oil spill or toxic chemical in transport,  we are on your side. You may be able to recover compensation to which you are legally entitled. Call our office now at 337-232-8123 or visit us at 900 S. College Rd., Lafayette, LA to find out whether or not you have a case. Our personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis and offer a free initial consultation to discuss your environmental damage case.

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