The report by Greenpeace and the Waterkeeper Alliance, “Oil and Water: ETP and Sunoco’s History of Pipeline Spills,” says Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are responsible for 527 pipeline incidents over the past 15 years, including pervasive water pollution, spills, permit violations, and stop-work orders on construction of pipelines such as the Bayou Bridge.
In those 15 years, ETP and Sunoco have reported 527 hazardous spills to federal authorities: approximately one incident every 11 days, the report states.
The incidents reported 3.6 million gallons of hazardous spills, including 2.8 million gallons of crude oil. The report documents an additional 2.4 million gallons of drilling fluids, sediment and industrial waste spilled during construction of just two ETP projects, the Rover and Mariner pipelines, in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
One hundred and one of the reported spills – roughly a fifth – were of 50 barrels or more, a volume considered “significant” by the federal regulator. Sixty-seven spills contaminated water, and 18 contaminated groundwater. The spills caused an estimated $115 million in property damage and led to $5.6 million in penalties, according to the 18-page report.
State agencies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have issued more than 100 notices of violation and noncompliance for construction of the Rover and Mariner pipelines in the past two years alone, the report states.
In 2017-18, ETP and Sunoco were issued 6 stop-work orders by state agencies and FERC because their construction operations violated permit requirements and rules designed to protect streams, rivers, wetlands, drinking water, historic sites and public safety.
Before construction of the Rover Pipeline even began, ETP was denied a blanket construction permit on the basis that it had demolished the historically significant 170-year old Stoneman House in Dennison, Ohio.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said in denying the permit that ETP “could not be relied upon to comply with the environmental regulations” required of it.
When the Rover project was conditionally approved, Energy Transfer Partners worked quickly to make up for lost time.
“In its haste,” the report says, “ETP repeatedly contaminated waterways across Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. One August 2017 analysis concluded that Rover had ‘racked up more environmental violations than other major interstate natural gas pipelines built in the last two years’ – a total of 104 noncompliance incidents while the second-highest company only had 26 noncompliance incidents.”
The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is jointly owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which merged with Sunoco in 2012, and Phillips 66. As planned, the crude oil pipeline will span 162 miles, carrying almost half a million gallons of oil a day across 11 Louisiana parishes and 700 water bodies, from Nederland, Texas to St. James Parish in Louisiana, roughly 60 miles from New Orleans.
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 Greenpeace report states that public outrage over ETP’s plans for the Dakota Access pipeline led the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the company a permit in December 2016.
The Trump administration, however, which received $350,000 in campaign contributions from owners of ETP, pushed the permits through and the pipeline went into operation in June 2017, according to the report.
Seven spills have been reported on the pipeline since then; three spills were reported before the pipeline even opened.
“Oil and pipeline companies have devastated the Gulf Coast and the Atchafalaya Basin, harming some of the most amazing ecosystems on Earth, putting millions of people at greater risk of flooding,” the report states.
It continues: “The Bayou Bridge pipeline is a great example of what is wrong with pipeline construction in Louisiana. It will traverse over, under or through the Calcasieu River, Mermentau River, Vermillion River, Bayou Tech, West Atchafalaya Basin Levee, Atchafalaya River Basin and multiple bayous that provide unique habitat for many rare species.”
Litigation is ongoing over the pipeline. Pending lawsuits argue that the corridor where the pipeline is being placed is already out of compliance with permits issued for previous pipeline projects. One lawsuit claims that an existing pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin also owned by Energy Transfer Partners is also out of compliance with a previously issued permit.
Atchafalaya Basin is the largest remaining wetland in North America and one of the last resorts against catastrophic flooding from the Mississippi River for property between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Construction of pipelines through the Basin, including the ongoing construction of the Bayou Bridge, threatens the Basin’s ability to take on flooding from the river by overloading it with sediment from felled trees and the rapid soil erosion that results during construction.
Disposal of dredged material during the construction of earlier pipelines led to the creation of spoil banks that have adversely affected water flow within the Basin and have affected the distribution of sediment, contributing to hypoxic areas. or “dead zones,” that lack oxygen and hurt wildlife as a result.
The report notes that “historically, there has been little enforcement of permit violations” from oil and gas companies in Louisiana. And pipeline spills and other incidents are on the rise, the report says.
“Despite industry rhetoric to the contrary, there is no failsafe way to transport fossil fuels,” it states. “Over the past several years, spills of crude oil and liquid petroleum products from pipelines have increased, reversing earlier improvements.”
The report notes that even oil industry trade organizations have found that pipeline incidents “‘impacting the public or environment’ have increased in the last four years.”
Pipeline supporters say it will generate tax revenue and that pipelines are the safest and most reliable way to transport crude oil.
Opponents say the pipeline will significantly harm the region’s crawfish industry, harm the wetlands it crosses, and threaten the drinking water supply. They say it is not a question of whether a spill will happen, but when, and how bad it will be.
“In light of ETP’s abysmal spill record documented in this report, the frequency and severity of incidents raises serious cause for heightened concern surrounding Bayou Bridge and other projects owned and constructed by ETP,” the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said in an email.
The Bucket Brigade, founded in 2000, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit devoted to environmental health and justice.
“From the moment this pipeline was introduced, we have told our governor that the people of Louisiana need to be protected from this out-of-state oil company,” Bucket Brigade founder and director Anne Rolfes said in a statement.
“These numbers show that Energy Transfer Partners and Bayou Bridge are a serious threat to Louisiana. It’s why Water Protectors are doing all we can to prevent this company from operating in our state.”
A federal judge issued an injunction in February to stop construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline while the court considers environmental challenges to the project.
In that 60-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick in Baton Rouge concluded that public interest in wetlands outweighs a company’s potential financial setbacks.
Judge Dick wrote that the pipeline threatens the health and longevity of the Atchafalaya Basin.
The injunction was stayed in March, however, by two of three judges at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. An expedited hearing on the injunction appeal is scheduled before a merits panel of Fifth Circuit judges on April 30 in Houston.
Governor John Bel Edwards’ office did not reply to an emailed request for comment Tuesday.
Energy Transfer Partners told Courthouse News in an email: “In 2016, the Energy Transfer family of companies transported 1.5 billion barrels (a 23% increase over 2015) of onshore crude … and onshore refined and/or petroleum products through approximately 79,700 miles of pipeline of which 99.99% was delivered safely to its intended destination (versus 99.96% in 2015). While our goal is to maintain a 100% delivery rate, we are pleased with the results of the constant improvement processes we have in place.”