By Greg LaRose
A steady rain Thursday (March 30) couldn't keep away dozens of protesters opposed to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which intends to link southeast Louisiana refineries to a hub for oil and gas in Texas. They organized at a traffic circle near the University of New Orleans and marched to deliver a letter expressing their opposition to the nearby local office of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, an agency whose approval the project needs.
Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade indicated this would be just the first protest from the environmental group aimed at stopping the pipeline Energy Transfer Partners wants to stretch from Nederland, Texas, to St. James Parish. Phillips 66 and Sunoco have joint interests in the $670 million undertaking.
Advocates say the Bayou Bridge Pipeline offers a far safer alternative to shipping crude and natural gas by truck or train. Plus, it would give Louisiana its biggest share yet of resources that have largely been confined to neighboring facilities in Texas.
"It's the safest and most economical way to transport crude," Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said last month. "People should be celebrating this project."
A brass band set the pace Thursday for the damp procession from the end of Elysian Fields Avenue to UNO's Center for Energy Resource Management. Its tenants include a field office for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Taking part were a few protesters who said they participated in efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline from the Standing Rock Native American Reservation near the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Chief among their concerns is the threat the pipeline poses to adjacent water supplies. Last September, security personnel used pepper spray and guard dogs to remove protestors from heavy equipment. Protesters also attacked security guards, a local sheriff said.
Three federal agencies stopped construction while additional environmental studies could take place. In his first days on the job, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
More Standing Rock protestors will be in New Orleans next week to discuss strategy with Bucket Brigade members about how to stop the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Rolfes said.
"The most important thing we're doing is planning for resistance," she said.
Water is a recurring theme in the Bucket Brigade's letter (read it below), which calls for the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality to deny permits Energy Transfer Partners needs to start the project. The first segment of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is in place, from Nederland to Calcasieu Parish. The remaining 163 miles links it with storage sites in St. James, providing access to refineries and petrochemical facilities along the river.
"The installation of over 160 miles of pipe and supporting infrastructure across 11 parishes will impact more than 600 wetland acres and cross almost 700 bodies of water, including the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents," the letter reads. "Each of the three companies involved in this project have woeful safety records, with leaks, spills, and explosions as norms."
The companies have offered repeated assurances their project will not threaten water supplies or the wetlands and waterways it will cross, including the Atchafalaya Basin and Bayou Lafourche. They say Louisiana will gain 2,500 construction jobs, $17.6 million in sales taxes during construction and $1.8 million in property taxes during the pipeline's first year in service.
The Rev. Harry Joseph, pastor of Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James, countered those risks Thursday when he took the bullhorn during the protest, saying the potential for environmental harm greatly outweighs such benefits.
Protesters then took turns reading from the two-page letter that gradually disintegrated in the rain. After they put their signatures on a dry copy, Rolfes led the group upstairs to the DNR field office. Workers in the building watched as protesters carried a 30-foot "puppet" pipeline down a narrow hallway, up three flights of stairs - chanting "Water is life" to the accompaniment of the brass band.
A man who said he worked for another tenant at the building told Rolfes no one was in the DNR office, and then asked if protesters had brought any mops to clear the water they tracked into the building.
Rolfes arrived the DNR office to find it closed, and no one answered her knocks or the call she placed just outside the door. After Joseph prayed over the letter, Rolfes slipped it under the door. The protesters then left the building with the man continuing to ask if anyone planned to mop the halls.
"Water is life," one protestor responded as she rounded a corner.