By Stephanie Riegel
Representatives from big industry will face off tonight against environmentalists at a public hearing over the proposed 162-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline, which, if approved, will run from Lake Charles through the Atchafalaya Basin to St. James Parish.
The $750 million project is being jointly pursued by subsidiaries of Phillips 66, Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners, and is an extension of an existing pipeline that, so far, transports crude oil from Nederland, Texas to Lake Charles.
Advocates of the project are expected to argue that pipelines are the safest, most environmentally friendly and cost effective way to transport oil, noting also that the proposed pipeline will join an existing network of pipelines crisscrossing the state.
“This is not the first pipeline that will run through the Atchafalaya,” says Tommy Foltz, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.
Local industry executives will also make the case that the project is good for Louisiana’s economy. John Stupp, CEO of the Stupp Corporation in north Baton Rouge, will testify that his company has been able to keep 250 employees on its payroll manufacturing 30,000 tons of pipe for the project. Stupp has already completed the work, for which it billed $35 million.
“Pipelining is the safest and most environmentally sound way to move things around, and we as a state and as a nation should be embracing the best way to do things,” Stupp says. “If we’re going to continue to use fossil fuels we ought to transport it the safest way possible.”
But environmentalists are expected to take issue with the claim that pipelines are safe. Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who will be among those attending tonight’s hearing, notes that Louisiana had 144 pipeline accidents in 2016.
“Our pipelines are falling apart,” Rolfes says. “They are leaking. They have holes in them. They are rusty and corroded. Our state should be forcing industry to repair the current pipelines rather than permit a new one.”
The state should also be exploring alternative fuel sources like solar and wind energy, which represent the economic development opportunities of the future, Rolfes says.
“One of the fastest growing sectors of job growth is in renewable energy and we’re dealing with these guys who are stuck thinking about fossil fuels,” she says.
The Bucket Brigade and other environmental groups from around the state are planning a 5 p.m. rally outside the Galvez Building at 602 N. Fifth St., where the hearing will be held at 6 p.m.
No decision on a permit is expected tonight. Still, industry leaders are optimistic. They’ve already paid for pipe that has been manufactured and is sitting on a rail car in north Baton Rouge ready to be transported to the job site.
“I can’t say what will happen if it isn’t approved, but we’re not banking on that happening,” says Foltz. “We’re very hopeful.”