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Dakota Access Pipeline Shutdown Will Not Affect Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Says Company That Owns Both

Sheriff's deputies negotiate with protesters disrupting construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Sept. 2018.
Travis Lux
Sheriff's deputies negotiate with protesters disrupting construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Sept. 2018.

The temporary closure of the Dakota Access Pipeline will not affect Louisiana’s Bayou Bridge Pipeline, according to the company that owns both.

“The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is an extension of a pre-existing network of infrastructure that has already been in place for years,” Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman said in an email Tuesday morning. “The pipeline is fully permitted and will remain in operation.”

On Monday, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be shut down and drained of oil while an environmental impact statement was completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s the latest development in a multi-year fight that involved high-profile Standing Rock protests in North Dakota in 2016.

The Obama Administration denied permits for the pipeline in 2016, but the Trump Administration quickly reversed that decision once he took office in 2017. It was completed in 2017.

In Monday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg decided that the permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers violated federal environmental law, that the Corps needs to amend its environmental assessment, and that the pipeline should cease operations while that takes place.

Energy Transfer disagreed with the judge’s ruling. In a statement, the company said it believes Boasberg “exceeded his authority in ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than three years.”

Coleman said the company is “looking into all options available to us to keep the Dakota Access Pipeline operating.”

Bayou Bridge also faced resistance to its construction, albeit with a much lower profile compared to the Dakota Access. Over a span of many months in 2018, landowners and protesters attempted to block its construction both on the ground and in the courts.

That included several arrests in 2018, including a few made that Septemberunder a then-new Louisiana law that made trespassing on pipeline property a felony, rather than just a misdemeanor. Construction stopped briefly in September 2018 when a landowner accused the company of illegally trespassing, but resumed shortly thereafter. In December 2018, a Louisiana judge ruled that the company had indeed trespassed, but was allowed to exercise eminent domain over the property.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline ultimately went into service in March of 2019.

What does this mean for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline?

Not much, it appears.

While owned by the same parent company, Coleman said, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would be unaffected by the closure of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline begins in Nederland, Texas, snakes through the swampy Atchafalaya Basin, and terminates near the Mississippi River in St. James, Louisiana. Coleman said the Bayou Bridge Pipeline “is not part of the Bakken pipeline system” that the Dakota Access Pipeline belongs to. Bakken is a reference to the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, from which fracked oil is extracted.

What’s the latest with all those Bayou Bridge Pipeline lawsuits?

There are still three outstanding lawsuits related to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction, according to Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is involved in two of the suits.

The first is related to the use of eminent domain by Energy Transfer. The Center for Constitutional rights, on behalf of a few landowners, is challenging the constitutionality of that decision, plus a few other things.

The other two lawsuits have to do with arrests of activists protesting construction of the pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin. One of them is a challenge to the critical infrastructure law, passed by the Louisiana legislature and signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2018, which made it a felony to trespass in the vicinity of an oil and gas pipeline. The other suit also was filed against the company and the officer who arrested protesters under the new law, and is being handled by the MacArthur Justice Center.

Could this affect oil and gas production in Louisiana?

Possibly, but not much, according to Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute at Tulane University.

“It’ll be a measurable decline — it will require some shifting around — but I don’t think it’ll have a dramatic impact on the refining operations in Louisiana,” Smith said.

Smith said the country’s pipeline networks are robust enough to handle any shortages caused by the loss of the Dakota Access Pipeline, including here in Louisiana.

“I don't see it as an operational crisis. I do see it as a political crisis,” he said.

In Smith’s view, more damaging is the message Dakota Access ruling sends to pipeline investors.

Despite winning a U.S. Supreme Court case last month, for example, the companies behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled plans to construct it this week, citing mounting legal costs from environmental lawsuits. Smith worries investors might be losing their appetites for pipelines, though he noted that courts in Texas and Louisiana have tended to rule in favor of pipeline construction.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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