Judge Allows Bayou Bridge Pipeline to Move Forward
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday (July 6) that construction will be allowed to move forward on the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project, which runs through Louisiana's fragile Atchafalaya Basin.
The decision, made in a 2-1 vote, overthrows a previous court’s injunction that would have stopped pipeline construction. Now, the lower court judge must rehear the case, according to the ruling.
The Bayou Bridge expansion, worth an estimated $750 million, is being undertaken by a partnership between Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 Partners, two large energy conglomerations that have oil and gas pipelines throughout the United States. The first section of the pipeline, which stretches from Nederland, Texas, to Lake Charles, Lousiana, went online in 2016 and transports multiple grades of crude through 30-inch pipeline.
The goal of the expansion is to create a link between hub facilities in Nederland and the St. James hub for distribution throughout the Gulf Coast. The pipeline will eventually transport 480,000 barrels of crude per day. Opponents have expressed concerns about the project's effect on the Atchafalaya Basin, which is the country's largest river swamp.
In February, Judge Shelly Dick issued a stop-work order and ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was “arbitrary and capricious” in issuing a “finding of no significant impact” last year, which allowed the project to forego a longer environmental impact statement. The Corps issued its final approvals in December.
In March, a separate three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit suspended Dick's injunction during the appeal of her ruling. Construction was allowed to continue as the case was heard.
Construction Moving Forward
In this month’s decision, Judges Edith Jones and James Graves Jr. ruled that the Corps’ analysis was properly understood, vindicating the decision to issue the permit based on less comprehensive environmental assessments of the impact of construction.
Even though Judge Thomas Reavley agreed with Dick’s initial assessment that there were gaps in the justifications used to grant the permit, the panel noted that the Corps had written two separate environmental assessments: one under the federal Rivers and Harbors Act, with the second under the federal Clean Water Act. Both deemed that no full environmental impact assessment was needed.
"The project's permit may be modified or even revoked if Bayou Bridge fails to produce photographic evidence of compliance with the permit conditions," the ruling said.
Reavley dissented, indicating that the Corps had improperly substituted acreage without noting in administrative record proof that the different tree types would “serve the aquatic resource needs of the watershed." The judge also noted that the state's wetland rapid assessment method was not adequate in replacing the direct assessment the Corps should have used for the migration acreage.
Bayou Bridge officials told the court that the pipeline, running from Lake Charles to St. James Parish and including the section of swamp, is slated for completion in October.