After battling court challenges from environmentalists and others, the builders of the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline across southern Louisiana say they will be able to carry crude oil from the northern Midwest to the Mississippi River valley beginning Monday.

Energy Transfer and Phillips 66 Partners said the 163-mile crude oil line, which cuts through the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin, North America's largest river swamp, is finished and ready for service. The $750 million pipeline will link the first leg of a line that had ended in Lake Charles with terminals in St. James Parish along the west bank of the Mississippi River.

Some landowners along the path and environmentalists have tried to fight the pipeline in court, raising a variety of challenges, including over the company's use of eminent domain and the appropriateness and enforcement of its wetlands permit. Other activists have tried acts of civil disobedience to halt construction to no avail.

Vicki Granado, spokeswoman for Energy Transfer, said the company began filling the line with oil Tuesday so that the crude could begin flowing to its destinations in Louisiana by Monday.

Once operational, the line will link Louisiana refiners to crude oil drawn from the country's heartland, tying into the Dakota Access Pipeline that taps oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and from other sources.

Randy Hayden, spokesman for Louisianians for Energy, a nonprofit grassroots group based at a law office in New Orleans, said the pipeline will continue to fuel economic growth across the state.

"With the U.S. producing record amounts of crude oil, Louisiana will be well-positioned to play a key role in the industry for years to come,” he said.

The horizontal fracking revolution in drilling has opened up large plays of oil and gas across the country. Two months before work started on the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in January 2018, all that drilling had already helped push the nation's daily oil production past the previous all-time record from 1970.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, since that record was broken, crude oil production has risen another nearly 2 million barrels per day to about 11.9 million barrels per day.

Energy Partners and Phillips 66 made the announcement even as fights over the underlying legal principles raised in the pipeline suits continue to churn in court. But those legal challenges failed to significantly derail construction.  

Opponents' concerns centered around yet another pipeline slicing through the huge arboreal forest in south-central Louisiana, the safety record of Energy Transfer and the impact of the line's terminus on poor, primarily black residents in St. James.

Environmentalists charged the line's construction will destroy ancient cypress and tupelo unlikely to return in Louisiana's subsiding swamps and further interrupt natural flow of water through the swamp. 

Others worried about the effect of the pipeline on the Burton Lane area of St. James, where oil tank farms and other industry have already hemmed in long-term homeowners, many elderly and disabled, with limited ways to evacuate during an emergency.

Dean Wilson, executive director of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, charged that the company continued to violate its permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including working in high water in the basin.

Wilson's group and other environmentalists brought a federal lawsuit in early 2018 over the Corps permits and briefly got an injunction on construction on part of the line, though work continued elsewhere. A federal appellate panel threw out the stay weeks later and eventually undercut his group's ability to try to enforce the permit despite repeated alleged violations.

"How do you deal with that problem," Wilson said Wednesday

The plaintiffs in Wilson's suit sought another preliminary injunction earlier this year over alleged work during high water but the federal judge rejected that, finding, in part, that the environmentalists and crawfishermen knew about the work in high water for many months and so seeking a preliminary injunction was too late.

"Additionally, it is undisputed that the construction in the Basin is near completion, and the request for relief may already be moot," Judge Shelly Dick found Feb. 7.  

Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, added that the fight over the pipeline has led to a "public awakening" that has "set the scene for important battles over eminent domain and, in St. James Parish, the construction of the Formosa Plastics Plant."

Energy Transfer has pointed out that the line will track existing rights of way to minimize impact on the swamp. The company will pay into mitigation banks to offset the loss of wetlands and touted pipelines as the safest way to move crude cross-country.

The company has also pointed out that the pipeline brought 2,500 construction jobs. Stupp Corporation, which is based in the Baton Rouge area, fabricated the 24-inch pipe.   

The line was also expected to generate $17.6 million in sales tax revenue during construction and $1.8 million in local property tax revenue during the first year of operation. 

The pipeline, which is owned 60 percent by Energy Transfer and 40 percent by Phillips 66 Partners, is operated by Energy Transfer, a statement issued Tuesday says.

The first phase of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline went into service in April 2016 and carries crude from Nederland, Texas, to Lake Charles.


Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.