Louisiana groups seeking a thorough, third-party examination of how the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline will impact the environment are pointing to last weekend's two major oil accidents as proof of why the state should begin considering an alternative energy future.
Anne Rolfes, a Lafayette native who leads Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental advocacy group, said the accidents bring home a point she and other groups have been arguing in opposition to the proposed pipeline project across south Louisiana.
“I think the last few days have been yet another lesson into the inherent dangers of the oil industry,” Rolfes said, citing the Oct. 13 oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico and the Sunday explosion at a Lake Pontchartrain platform.
“This is an inherently dangerous industry, and we’re tired of being dependent on an industry in which people have to risk their life to go to work,” Rolfes said.
Rolfes and her group, along with Bold Louisiana, have been protesting at the Governor’s Mansion each week in October. They’re urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to call for an environmental impact statement that would provide a more detailed look at how the project would affect flood risk and water quality along the proposed pipe’s path.
Rolfes said responses to those concerns so far have relied on “cut-and-paste” answers that don’t provide a legitimate picture of the overall impact of constructing another piece of oil infrastructure through the state’s wetlands.
“There is an increased flooding risk with this pipeline and we need to know what this is. There are some really foundational issues we don’t know the answer to,” Rolfes said, pointing to the pipeline’s potential of impacting Bayou Lafourche, a drinking water source for 300,000 people.
Edwards’ office on Tuesday said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already conducting an Environmental Assessment to study the project’s potential impact. The Corps will only call for the next-level Environmental Impact Statement if they find that permitting the project would have a “significant adverse effect on the quality of the environment.”
Here’s the full statement from Edwards’ office:
"The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is going to make absolutely sure that this project is done safely. Keeping refineries across south Louisiana supplied with crude is essential to maintaining jobs and is critically important for our economy. The state is going to make sure that the latest technologies and safety techniques are used in constructing the pipeline. There is no way to move significant quantities of crude that doesn’t involve some risks, but the governor believes that ultimately it’s much safer to use a pipeline to move the crude rather than trains or trucks which are prone to having more accidents.
The Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a full Environmental Assessment to determine the potential environmental impact of the proposed permit. Should they find that the permit will bear no significant adverse effect on the quality of the environment, they will make a fully documented Finding of No Significant Impact, meaning that an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is not necessary. Should the Corps find significant potential for an adverse environmental impact, an EIS will be performed. We understand the concern some have expressed and the governor has directed DNR to be certain that a careful and thorough review of the environmental assessment will be conducted as soon as it becomes available."
According to the EPA’s EIS database, only seven such studies have been completed for the dozens of pipelines constructed through the state since 1987.
Rolfes said she and other advocates for the EIS want to understand the full impact of constructing the pipeline across more than 700 Acadiana waterways and 600 acres of protected wetlands.
ETP faces fines for wetlands damage
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company behind Bayou Bridge and tens of thousands of miles of pipelines throughout the U.S., is already facing fines in Ohio for damaging that state’s wetlands.
Ohio regulators say they want to lodge a $2.3 million fine against the company over the construction of its Rover pipeline, where 2 million gallons of diesel-contaminated drilling sludge leaked into protected wetlands during the natural-gas line’s construction.
According to the Ohio EPA, the company then dumped the waste into local quarries near drinking water sources. Construction was suspended, but three days after it resumed in September, the company illegally discharged soap wastewater and sediment into an Ohio stream, leading to the company’s 13th environmental violation in Ohio this year.
Louisiana Bucket Brigade has also pointed to the accident history of Energy Transfer Partners and the company with which it recently merged, Sunoco Logistics.
The group compiled the accident history for ETP, Sunoco and their subsidiaries from 2015-16 and found 69 reported accidents during that time, or nearly 3 a month. The accidents polluted at least four rivers that serve as drinking water sources in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Texas, as well as a natural gas pipeline leak under the Red River in Louisiana.
In addition, a Pennsylvania utility last October urged its customers to reduce their water use in preparation for a possible contamination incident after a Sunoco pipeline break spilled about 55,000 gallons of gasoline into the Susquehanna River, potentially contaminating three water supplies. The company blamed the break on floodwater after a heavy downpour.
Louisiana Bucket Brigade says in its report that when bad weather affects the equipment, it exposes "poor planning and neglected maintenance."
Bayou Bridge still awaits wetlands and water quality permits from the Corps and the Department of Environmental Quality.
Louisiana Bucket Brigade and other groups, including St. James residents living in the heavy industrial zone where the pipeline is proposed to end, have sued to halt the Coastal Use Permit issued earlier this year by the Department of Natural Resources.
The case is still pending.
Energy Transfer owns more than 56,000 miles of natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products and crude oil pipelines, according to the company. The company had promised its investors the pipeline would enter service in the fourth quarter of this year, but it’s now changed the projection to an expected completion in the first quarter of 2018.