Company Asks Appeals Court To Lift Halt In Oil Pipeline Work



 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A company building a crude oil pipeline in Louisiana asked a federal appeals court Friday to lift a judge's order that temporarily halts pipeline construction work in a swamp.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for an "emergency stay" that would suspend the judge's ruling while it appeals. The company asked the New Orleans-based appeals court for a decision by next Wednesday.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick sided with environmental groups and issued a preliminary injunction stopping all Bayou Bridge pipeline construction work in the Atchafalaya Basin until the groups' lawsuit is resolved.

In a court filing Friday, the company claimed Dick's ruling "fails the basic requirements" for issuing such an order.

Dick concluded the project's irreversible environmental damage outweighs the economic harm that a delay brings to the company.

The company says the work stoppage will cost it up to $500,000 per day in construction-related expenses and $6 million per month in lost revenue.

The judge has said the company's estimated losses aren't supported by the "underlying data."

The judge said the project potentially threatens the hydrology of the basin and "poses the threat of destruction of already diminishing wetlands." She also agreed with environmental groups that centuries-old "legacy" trees can't be replaced once they're cut down.

The company claims the sudden halt in construction work creates its own environmental risks. The company says Dick's order prevents it from implementing erosion-control measures to keep rising waters from washing away mounds of dirt from the digging it has done.

Lawyers for the environmental groups say they're open to modifying the injunction so erosion control measures can be completed. But they say the company is asking for permission to complete the entire project.

"There is no emergency that warrants immediate relief due to environmental harm," they wrote in a court filing Friday.

Dick's order applies to the basin only and doesn't prevent the company from working elsewhere along the pipeline's 162-mile-long (261-kilometer) path from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.

Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.

The Corps completed two environmental assessments for the project before issuing the permit. Dick, however, concluded the Corps didn't show it took a "hard look" at past, present and future "cumulative" environmental impacts.

"The Corps' and (company's) myopic view that they are only required to consider the impacts of this singular project is not consistent with the regulations or applicable jurisprudence," she wrote.

Company attorneys claim the judge ignored the Corps' analysis and improperly substituted her own judgment for the agency's.

Construction in the basin began last month. The basin is the nation's largest river swamp and includes roughly 880,000 acres (356,000 hectares) of forested wetlands, according to the groups' lawsuit.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC is a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66. Energy Transfer Partners built the Dakota Access pipeline, a project that sparked a string of violent clashes between protesters and police in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the last link in a pipeline network connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals.

Earthjustice attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Gulf Restoration Network, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West.

-by AP reporter Michael Kunzelman

 

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