Tuesday, March 13, 2018 10:30 am
Appeals court weighs resuming pipeline project in Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS – A company building a crude oil pipeline in Louisiana is asking a federal appeals court to allow it to resume construction work in an environmentally fragile swamp.
A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's request. The company is seeking an "emergency stay" that would lift a court-ordered halt in pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin.
On Feb. 23, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick sided with environmental groups and issued a preliminary injunction that suspended work in the basin until the groups' lawsuit is resolved. The judge concluded the project's irreversible environmental damage outweighs the economic harm that a delay brings to the company. And on Thursday, she refused to suspend her own ruling while the company appeals it.
In court filings, company attorneys claim Dick's ruling "fails the basic requirements" for issuing such an order.
The basin accounts for approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) of the pipeline's 162-mile-long (261-kilometer) path from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.
Dick's order only applies to the basin and doesn't prevent the company from working elsewhere along the route. The company said the work stoppage is costing it up to $500,000 per day in labor expenses and $6 million per month in lost revenue. The judge said the company's estimated losses aren't supported by the "underlying data."
Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.
The groups and Bayou Bridge disagree on whether the company could immediately resume construction in the basin if the 5th Circuit lifts the preliminary injunction. The company's lawyers say they would have at least a few weeks to make "significant uninterrupted construction progress" before rising water levels disrupt work in the basin.
The environmental groups' attorneys claim the Corps' permit prohibits the work when water levels reach a certain height.
"That height has already been reached, and river levels will likely remain high for months," they wrote in a court filing last week.
Dick said the project potentially threatens the hydrology of the basin and "poses the threat of destruction of already diminishing wetlands." She also agreed with environmental groups that centuries-old "legacy" trees can't be replaced once they're cut down.
Bayou Bridge lawyers claimed the sudden halt in construction work creates its own environmental risks. The company said Dick's order prevents it from implementing erosion-control measures to prevent rising waters from washing away mounts of dirt from the digging it has done.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC is a joint venture of Phillips 66 and Energy Transfer Partners, the company whose construction of the Dakota Access pipeline provoked violent clashes between protesters and police in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the last link in a network connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals.
The three 5th Circuit judges hearing the case are W. Eugene Davis, Edith Brown Clement and Priscilla Owen.