Construction on the Bayou Bridge pipeline has begun, even as opponents pursue multiple legal challenges to block the 163-mile line across southern Louisiana and some have promised to stand in the way of the bulldozers and backhoes.

Hailed by oil industry advocates as a needed link in the state’s industrial infrastructure during a boom in the petrochemical sector, the pipeline will carry crude oil between a hub in Lake Charles and a terminal in St. James Parish but also cut through the environmentally sensitive Atchafalaya Basin.

"We are excited to be able to conclude the more than 2 year permitting and have begun construction activities," Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Alexis Daniel wrote in a Wednesday morning email to The Advocate. The company is the majority shareholder of Bayou Bridge LLC.

Energy Transfer has said the line will be an economic powerhouse for Louisiana that will create 2,500 construction jobs and that investors have already paid property owners $106 million for property to build Bayou Bridge.

The $750 million project will link an existing section of the Bayou Bridge line that cuts through Texas and far southwestern Louisiana to the Mississippi River. The announcement of construction comes as the U.S. Energy Information Agency recently forecast that the nation could, this year, break its all-time annual oil production record that was set in 1970 at 10.3 million barrels per day.

Fueled by increased production from the Gulf of Mexico and the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, U.S. production is expected to reach 10.8 million barrels per day in 2019, the agency added, rivaling leading world producers Russian and Saudi Arabia.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline, which will be able to move up to 480,000 barrels per day when finished, will end up in a section of western St. James Parish that’s already home to oil tank farms and other major crude oil lines that service river and rail traffic, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port and refineries along the river. It also sends some that oil back toward the nation’s midsection and even Canada.

Beyond temporary construction jobs, Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said new pipelines like the Bayou Bridge are upgrades as necessary to move around oil to the state’s refineries and other industries as road and highway expansions are for moving around people.

“We’ve had this amazing industrial renaissance that’s been going on in Louisiana, you know, for the past couple of years and construction projects going on all over the place, and as we grow our plants, we’re going to need access to more resources,” said Briggs, whose group represents independent drilling, pipeline and other associated service companies.

Briggs echoed the arguments of Bayou Bridge and other supporters of the project that a pipeline is the safest way to move crude compared with trucking or rail. Bayou Bridge also says that 88 percent of the pipeline will run along existing infrastructure.

But opponents have challenged the pipeline in court, saying it poses spill threats to drinking water, fisheries and to residents who live nearby.

St. James Parish Councilman Clyde Cooper, who represents the area where the pipeline will pass in that parish, said late Wednesday morning that he wasn’t aware the pipeline work had started.

He said the pipeline did not come up for discussion at a Parish Council meeting Tuesday. But he said he believes the company should wait to start work while the project is being challenged in court in his parish.

The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is suing the state Department of Natural Resources, which it claims was overly lax when considering whether to permit Bayou Bridge.

"I think (the company) should have held off until everything is clear and approved," Cooper said.

Among the issues some St. James residents have had with the pipeline is that it will run near a small Burton Street neighborhood already largely surrounded by industrial facilities and further limit access to escape routes should there be an incident.

The residents, Cooper and other parish officials have been petitioning the state for help in finding an alternative access route for the residents. Cooper said state officials have been looking at three possible routes but are still talking with landowners.

The company declined to identify where work had begun Wednesday. Environmental groups have spotted heavy equipment in areas like Bayou Lafourche that they believe are staging there to build the pipeline. They shared photos Wednesday online through sites like the Facebook group for the L'eau Est La Vie Camp.

The conservationists said Wednesday they were not planning to clash with construction crews yet but are taking photos should crews deviate from the permit or suffer an accident.

The environmentalists are still exploring legal ways to hold up the project, at least until their various lawsuits have been resolved. Different coalitions have sued the company for public records, as well as the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approving the project.

Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Bloch said plaintiffs would take whatever "legally permitted" action they could to bring construction to a halt. She is representing groups that include the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Basinkeeper executive director Dean Wilson said Wednesday that Bayou Bridge is proposed to be built in areas where existing spoil banks are impeding the flow of water. Oil and gas operators need to fix existing infrastructure before adding more, he argued.

Bayou Bridge opponents are prepared to stand in front of the bulldozers and backhoes but haven't clashed with construction crews yet, said Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade founder.

Environmentalists want construction workers to have jobs in oil and gas, they just want them to focus on repairing or replacing the old, rusty equipment that still laces south Louisiana, Rolfes said. For now, she and her cohort are focusing on the battle in court.

"We're throwing everything we have at them, and it's not in desperation, it's in determination," she said.

Her organization and others will be in Baton Rouge district court Thursday for a hearing on a public records suit. They have sued Bayou Bridge LLC for various documents, arguing that when the company attempted to seize land under eminent domain to build the pipeline, they opened themselves up to public scrutiny such is placed on government agencies. The pipeline company has contested those claims and argued that they are not public record.

The final public body to sign off on the pipeline was the Atchafalaya Levee Board, which gave Bayou Bridge their unanimous support last week. Because the pipeline is designed to run under rather than over the levee, board members were less concerned that it would disrupt operations or be impacted by high water, said board President John Grezaffi.

They were also heartened by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's decision not to object to Bayou Bridge. The CPRA has no permitting authority of its own, but it does advise levee boards and the Department of Natural Resources if a proposal may affect coastal projects or levees in the coastal zone. The Authority did not object to Bayou Bridge on either count.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.