We Just Won a Big Fight Against DAPL’s Southern Brother
A federal judge in Louisiana issued an order on Feb. 23 blocking any further work on the Bayou Bridge pipeline. The project aims to connect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline to refineries and export terminals in Louisiana, cutting a path through the unique Atchafalaya Basin. The judge issued a preliminary injunction to prevent immediate “irreparable harm” to this ecological treasure while hearings continue on a lawsuit we filed in January on behalf of several clients that include local crawfishermen.
Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who is leading the legal effort, answers some questions about the initial victory.
Why is the Bayou Bridge pipeline especially egregious?
The Atchafalaya Basin in southern Louisiana, where the pipeline is proposed, is a special place. It’s the largest swamp in the country. And as a key source for the state’s crawfish industry, it provides subsistence for the Cajun people and helps supply the rest of the U.S. with crawfish.
The basin is a crown jewel, a priceless component of our national ecological and cultural heritage. It is not the right place for an oil pipeline, especially one as massive as this one, and especially one run by a company with a reputation for carelessness like Energy Transfer Partners.
How is this pipeline different than others in the area?
This is an absolutely massive pipeline, far bigger than any others in the basin. A spill or leak from this project is different. The company, Energy Transfer Partners, likes to tout that 99.96 percent of the oil sent over its pipelines makes it safely to destination. That sounds like a nice number, but if you apply that to the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which carries about a half a million barrels of oil per day, it means that by the company’s own admission it would be losing more than 8,000 gallons of oil each day. Multiply by 365 days and you get three million gallons of oil per year spilled into the environment. In an aquatic environment like the Atchafalaya, which is underwater for much of the year, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
There’s also the historic impact. Past pipeline construction has damaged the basin. In the past, when a company put in a pipeline, they would dig up a canal, drop in a pipeline and then leave the spoil (basically, dirt and plant debris) in a bank next to the canal. They don’t put it all back, which interrupts the water flow and negatively impacts the water quality, killing off the crawfish. It’s the No. 1 ecological threat to the basin. So there’s this history of treating this place like a garbage dump, and we’re drawing a line and saying it’s not okay anymore.
How did this project get permitted in the first place?
The Army Corps of Engineers permitted this pipeline without an environmental impact review. The idea of permitting a 162-mile pipeline of that size and volume in a place as special as the Atchafalaya is completely nuts. We do environmental assessments on shopping malls and drinking water pipelines. How can we not do one on a massive crude oil pipeline through a sensitive aquatic environment? A full environmental review would allow some transparency and accountability for a project like this—an honest acknowledgement of its risks and benefits, as well as consideration of alternatives. That process never happened here.
You’ve worked in communities across the Pacific Northwest to stop fossil fuel projects. Is the work in Louisiana similar?
In the Pacific Northwest cases, communities learned of all the risks and impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects and ultimately said “no.” The information came to light through a process required under environmental review laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Part of that process includes giving members of the public a chance to voice their views. When all of the risks and benefits are balanced in a transparent way, these projects look terrible and decision makers have said no to them.
The problem with the Bayou Bridge is none of that transparent balancing of risks and benefits ever took place.
(Side note: For nearly 50 years, NEPA has empowered communities to defend themselves and their environment from dangerous, rushed or poorly planned federal or industry projects. But it’s under attack. Find out more.)
Tell me about Energy Transfer Partners. What kind of company are we dealing with?
We’re dealing with a company with an abysmal safety and compliance record. Energy Transfer leads the industry in spills, leaks and other disasters. It’s been shut down in multiple states. And its record of compliance with legal standards is so poor that recently the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stated that Energy Transfer couldn’t be trusted to comply with environmental regulations. I’ve never seen anything like that.
So with Energy Transfer there is a toxic combo of incompetence and greed, and the people of the Atchafalaya Basin shouldn’t be forced to bear the risks of that.
The company has already filed an appeal of the preliminary injunction.
So many types of people have come out against this pipeline, including indigenous groups, environmental justice communities and crawfishermen. What do you attribute this to?
There is a growing awareness that the price of fossil fuel development has been too high. For decades, the industry has treated the environment and the people of Louisiana as an afterthought. The effects of that have piled up over the years, and they’re devastating. For example, crawfishing, which has sustained families in the Basin for generations, is in dire jeopardy as the basin goes into ecological freefall.
This is a place where different communities have drawn a line in the sand to say: “Enough.” Unless we can start dealing with these legacy problems and repairing this precious resource, we can’t allow yet another set of insults.