NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline through sensitive coastal lands continued Monday despite a state judge’s ruling that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources illegally issued a permit for it.
State Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court in St. James Parish, ruled April 30 that the permit for construction through a coastal zone violated state law. On May 15, Judge Turner reiterated that construction through the zone must stop. But construction was continuing Monday.
The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is jointly owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which merged with Sunoco in 2012, and Phillips 66.
The 162-mile crude oil pipeline will carry almost half a million gallons of oil a day across 11 Louisiana parishes and 700 water bodies, from Nederland, Texas to St. James Parish, roughly 60 miles from New Orleans. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.
Energy Transfer Partners also built and owns the controversial Dakota Access pipeline. The Bayou Bridge pipeline will be the final leg connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals.
The coastal zone in question is the last 18 miles of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which includes land in St. James and Ascension parishes. Because the area is considered coastal, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources was tasked with reviewing state laws related to construction and issuing the permit.
In siding with plaintiffs, including HELP St. James, Gulf Coast Restoration Network, The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and BOLD Louisiana, Judge Turner found that the department did not apply state-mandated guidelines that direct the activities of companies involved in oil and gas, a fact he called “troubling.”
Turner found that construction of the pipeline will leave St. James residents without an emergency and evacuation route in the event of a chemical spill.
And a chemical spill, according to statistics, is likely.
An April report by Greenpeace and Waterkeeper Alliance found that Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are among the nation’s worst polluters, with a track record of a spill every 11 days.
In the past 15 years, the companies have self-reported 527 hazardous incidents, including pervasive water pollution, spills, permit violations and stop-work orders on construction of pipelines.
Environmentalists, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a 501(c)3 nonprofit devoted to environmental health and justice, enclosed Judge Turner’s orders in a letter to Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris on Monday, asking Harris to enforce the ruling immediately. The environmentalists left the letter at Harris’s New Orleans office, but Harris was not present.
Harris’s office is in the same building as the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, a state agency tasked with trying to halt or reduce the alarming rate of coastal erosion in Louisiana. Louisiana loses one football field of land every 100 minutes. Some of the erosion is attributed to oil and gas infrastructure, including environmental damage from pipelines.
The oil and gas industry acknowledges that drilling contributes to at least 36 percent of Louisiana’s coastal erosion, and many scientific studies have documented the havoc that pipelines have wrought on the environment.
For instance, a 1972 study conducted by the pipeline industry concluded that every mile of pipeline causes the loss of 54 acres of land. Forty percent of U.S. wetlands are in Louisiana, which has suffered 90 percent of the nation’s total loss of coastal marshes, according to Southeastern Louisiana University.
Standing outside Harris’s door Monday, Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said the Department of Natural Resources is turning a blind eye to environmental violations while another state agency is trying desperately to save the coast.
“The state is speaking out of both sides of its mouth,” Rolfes said later in an email. “On the one hand pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a coastal zone program, and yet looking the other way as Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC digs up and destroys [the coast]. The Department of Natural Resources is giving Bayou Bridge a pass to damage the coastal zone and suffer no consequences.”
The letter to Harris, signed by plaintiffs in the recent lawsuits and by Meg Logue of 350 New Orleans, a volunteer climate activist group, says that despite Judge Turner’s ruling “Bayou Bridge LLC worked in the coastal zone on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week.”
“We ask that you live up to your charge as public trustee,” the letter continues, “and enforce these orders immediately. This would result in a cessation of all construction in the coastal zone.
“Your agency, to date, has simply modified the permits when Bayou Bridge has violated them.”
The letter details five previous violations that were reported and not acted upon, and asks the secretary “to protect the people of Louisiana rather than an out of state oil company” by levying the maximum fines for permit violations and revoking the permit for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
Residents of Belle Rose, in St. James Parish, told the Louisiana Bucket Brigade Monday that construction on the pipeline lasted all through the night Friday, May 18.
Energy Transfer Partners did not reply to an emailed request for comment Monday.
On Friday the Louisiana Bucket Brigade sent an email to Robert Williamson, coastal resources scientist manager at the Department of Natural Resources, to alert him that construction in the coastal zone was continuing in defiance of Judge Turner’s order.
Neither Williamson nor other officials from the Department of Natural Resources replied to requests for comment Monday.