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Federal Judge Halts Bayou Bridge Pipeline Construction Citing Potential for ‘Irreparable Harm’



Bayou Bridge

In a victory for environmentalists, conservationists, fishing operations, residents in flood-prone areas, and even neotropical migratory birds, a federal judge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, halted construction on Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge Pipeline project slated to span the heart of Louisiana’s ecologically-delicate Atchafalaya Basin.

Although all permits for the project had been granted, allowing construction to begin in late January, U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick ruled Friday all work be suspended “in order to prevent further irreparable harm until this matter can be tried on the merits.”

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association, Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice filed litigation to end construction on the 162-mile (261-kilometer), 24-inch pipeline — planned to run from Lake Charles to St. James Parish, across the southern portion of the state through an environmentally-fragile area  — on January 11. Testimony at the hearing for a preliminary injunction, heard by the court on February 8th and 9th, provided grounds for Friday’s decision.

“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,” averred Atchafalaya Basinkeeper executive director Dean Wilson in a statement cited by ABC affiliate, KATC. “By allowing unsustainable development in the Basin, we are endangering hundreds of cities and communities and millions of people in southern Louisiana.”

Particular concerning to the plaintiffs and supporters of a permanent shut-down on Bayou Bridge construction is Energy Transfer Partners’ lengthy and growing list of spills, leaks, and pre-completion problems, which led to recent halts in Ohio and Pennsylvania due to contamination of wetlands and potable water supplies.

In fact, ETP subsidiary, Sunoco, came under fire by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after amassing nineteen environmental violations — and dumping more than two million gallons of tainted drilling waste in an area adjacent to a source of public drinking water — with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimately halting construction of the equally-fraught Rover Pipeline in January.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection followed suit, stopping construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 Pipeline under similar circumstances, including the contamination of multiple private water wells, spills, and questionable drilling.

Responsible for bringing to fruition the acridly-contentious Dakota Access Pipeline — despite a massive and peaceful resistance movement led by Native Americans over water contamination fears and Indigenous rights violations — ETP faced robust opposition to Bayou Bridge well before work began.

“ETP has a horrible track record that keeps getting worse every day,” Donna Lisenby, Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager at Waterkeeper Alliance, asserted in a statement following Friday’s ruling. “Waterkeeper Alliance is very grateful and relieved that a despicably horrible and incorrigible repeat offender has been temporarily stopped by the courts from damaging water, land, and wildlife in Louisiana.”

ETP by no means stands alone as responsible for construction of the pipeline — nor is it the only entity facing outrage over Bayou Bridge.

As KATC reported February 7, “Multiple agencies will oversee Bayou Bridge’s construction, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and its Office of Pipeline Safety; the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality; and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, according to Corps spokesperson Ricky Boyett.”

However, USACE oversight, itself, presents myriad issues.

“Environmental watchdogs have long criticized the Corps’ oversight of dredged material in the Atchafalaya Basin,” the report continues, “where they say pipeline companies for decades have created spoil banks that hinder water flow. This creates deoxygenation that destroys aquatic habitats and impacts fish and wildlife populations.”

Indeed, as Earthjustice contends in the lawsuit, with emphasis added,

“The ecology of the Basin has suffered significant degradation over several decades due to multiple causes, many of them relating to the management of the Basin by the Corps, and Corps permitting private activities which degrade habitat and water quality, including construction of oil and gas pipelines through the Basin. 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 Bayou Bridge pipeline threatens to cause significant environmental harm to an integral part of our national heritage, an ecological treasure that sustains local economic growth and forms an important center of the culture and soul of the State of Louisiana. Construction of the Pipeline will degrade the Basin in multiple direct, indirect, and cumulative ways.”

Until the judge releases the opinion on the matter — the ruling came without comment or clarification — ETP has refused to issue a statement, as company spokeswoman Alexis Daniel asserted in an email cited by the Advocate, “The Judge did not issue any opinion explaining her order. Until such time as that is issued, and we can review, we will have no further comment.”

Bayou Bridge would transport nearly a half-million barrels of crude daily to refineries along the Mississippi River, notes Reuters, and would link to Dakota Access to bring the hydrocarbon south from points as far removed from the area as North Dakota.

If only temporarily, concerns over environmental contamination and destruction have been offered a reprieve, as Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman remarked in a statement,

“The court’s ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country’s ecological and cultural crown jewels. For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company’s incompetence and greed.”

Gulf Restoration Network’s Scott Eustis echoed the sentiment, but made clear the pipeline battle remains both crucial and urgent, contending succinctly,

“We have no time to lose. The sand stolen by these rights-of-way must flow to the coast — the sand cannot be spent filling our swamps. Once those swamps are filled, there’s no fish, and the vines cover the trees, so no birds. It’s over.”

Image: ShutterStock/Anton Foltin.

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