After months of challenges, some in courtrooms and some at work sites, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline is expected to be completed on time.
Energy Transfer Partners, the same company at the center of protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, expects to complete a 163-mile crude oil pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James in October.
While the Louisiana project hasn't seen the same clashes that interrupted work up north, it still has faced a handful of lawsuits and "direct action" protests that have included people chaining themselves to equipment in an effort to stop work.
“We have been pleased with the pace of our construction overall. The tactics of the opposition to stop or delay construction, while they are unlawful and a nuisance, don’t typically stop work for more than a couple of hours at most,” wrote Alexis Daniel, a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, the majority shareholder in the Bayou Bridge venture.
Two men were arrested Saturday and accused of trespassing and resisting an officer, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said. The pair hooked themselves to an SUV they had parked at the entrance to the work site. One became dehydrated and disconnected himself before officers arrived with gear to cut them loose. Stassi said the man had brought water but couldn't reach it after shackling himself to the SUV. Stassi said the protest didn't stop work.
Some environmental groups have gone to court to try to stymie construction. Most notably, they filed suits in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and in St. James Parish against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Conservationists argued government regulators were overly lax in granting permits for the pipeline.
Both lawsuits remain active, though they could become moot as pipeline construction begins to wind down. The lawsuit against the Corps temporarily halted construction in the Atchafalaya Basin, though the prohibition was overturned on appeal.
Other environmental groups — often composed of activists other than the ones who filed the lawsuits — have sought to delay construction by chaining themselves to equipment and otherwise physically standing in the way of construction crews.
Organizer Cherri Foytlin, of the L’eau Est La Vie camp, estimates there have been about 40 such “direct action” demonstrations, some of which resulted in the arrest of demonstrators.
“Direct action is how you get wins when the legislature fails. … It’s a tool of the people rather than the elite,” said Mark Tilsen, a veteran of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests who was arrested while holding up Bayou Bridge construction last week.
Over the months, some environmentalists have drawn comparisons between Dakota Access and Bayou Bridge. Despite Energy Transfer Partners' involvement in both projects, Foytlin, Tilsen and others said there are substantial differences. Bayou Bridge doesn’t track near federal tribal lands like Dakota Access; the resistance in Louisiana has been far less pronounced.
On the surface, the Bayou Bridge protests might be considered only symbolic, though they aren't really, Tilsen said. Demonstrators say they are hopeful they've at least called attention to their concerns.
One major claim is that the state and pipeline company did not adequately prepare an emergency response plan for the St. James community should the pipeline suffer some catastrophe.
That argument is at the heart of the lawsuit against the state Department of Natural Resources. With such a large project, taking the time to develop emergency contingencies seems like a minor concession, Foytlin said.
“All we want … is for the people in that community to have an evacuation (route) and a way out,” she said.
While pipeline opponents have been outspoken in their resistance to Bayou Bridge, Energy Transfer say they represent a minority. The company has long argued that pipelines are a much safer way to transfer oil than trucks and ships, and Bayou Bridge will be an economic boon to Louisiana, they’ve argued.
“We understand there will always be varying opinions about critical infrastructure projects like the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, and we respect the rights of all to peacefully and lawfully protest,” Daniel wrote in an email. “Outside of a small group of protesters, who are often not local to this area, there is overwhelming support for Louisiana’s energy industry and our pipeline project.”
An Energy Transfer website dedicated to the project says the 24-inch pipe being built with Phillips 66 Partners will be able to transport 480,000 barrels of light or heavy crude daily.