SPECIAL REPORT: Bayou Bridge Pipeline

Updated: Mar. 13, 2017 at 10:24 PM CDT
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SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - A controversial pipeline - the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline - is expected to be more than 160 miles long, crossing 11 parishes in the state. And it all starts in Calcasieu Parish.

But a report authored by state environmentalists showcases the number of pipeline accidents in 2016.

A total of 153 pipeline accidents took place in Louisiana in 2016, according to reports filed with the National Response Center. The center is the federal point of contact for oil spills.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, collected and compiled the data for the pipeline accident report. Anne Rolfes heads up the agency, based in New Orleans.

"There's no way you can tell me that's safe and that's something we should stake our future on," Rolfes said.

Out of those 153 pipeline accidents, 91 accidents were linked to crude oil and 38 were attributed to natural gas spills.

And here in Southwest Louisiana, a total of 15 pipeline accidents took place last year.

Three Southwest Louisiana parishes made the list: Allen, Calcasieu, and Cameron.

Reports state:

"There was a release of propane due to rupture which resulted in a fire" in Sulphur last February.

"A six inch pipeline developed a leak, resulting in a discharge of crude oil" in Cameron in November.

"Natural gas is releasing from an underground 6 inch pipeline due to an unknown cause" in Oakdale in March.

"You know, 50 years ago we didn't know any better; we know better now and we need to change that; we just can't keep doing the same thing," Rolfes said.

And for the past several months, Rolfes has been fighting against the permitting approval of the 162-mile long and 24-inch wide proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline that would transport crude oil - extending from Texas through Lake Charles, ending in St. James Parish and cutting through the Atchafalaya Basin.

Rolfes believes, if constructed, the pipeline could have a detrimental impact on both the environment and people's health.

"It will cross several sources of drinking water and it's a company that has a demonstrated history of populating drinking water sources and that's just one of the reasons we don't need to build this pipeline," Rolfes said.

The pipeline is a project by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, which generated attention across the country after thousands spent months protesting its construction, but was greenlighted after President Donald Trump signed an executive order making way for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

"It's been an important industry in this state but it's really time to move on; we don't need new infrastructure," said Rolfes

But for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Vice President Gifford Briggs, the $750 million pipeline project represents thousands of jobs and economic growth for the state that the association projects could bring in close to $18 million in sales taxes.

"We've been facing a downturn particularly in the oil and gas industry; a lot of people unemployed and a lot of those jobs will be able to come back through the investment that will be made through the pipeline," Gifford Briggs said.

If approved, the Oil and Gas Association estimates close to 2,500 construction jobs and 12 permanent jobs.

Briggs added a pipeline is the safest way to transport the material needed to the Gulf refineries and export facilities and lessen the impact to our state's infrastructure.

"You have a couple methods - you can transport it by rail, through train; you can transport on the road; and the pipeline without question is the safest for the environment and people," said Briggs. "Instead of having truck after truck after truck transporting this crude oil from one refinery to the other, we can put it in the pipeline, build the pipeline safely, and then be able to transport that without having that additional pressure from our highway system."

But Rolfes said her goal is to get those in charge to shift away from fossil fuels and see the benefits renewable energy can bring to the oil-and-gas state.

"What we are doing is building a movement," said Rolfes. "People in Louisiana are waking up in a way that they haven't been awake before. When was the last time you saw a big battle over a pipeline - never, so great, we are having a battle over a pipeline and this is just the first of many to come."

Before construction can begin, state agencies must approve several permits and certifications, including a water certification from the Department of Environmental Quality.

"We look at the permit application and determine whether any of the activities they purpose to do would create a violation of any state regulations, any water quality regulations," said DEQ's Press Secretary Greg Langley. He said due to the public interest, a public hearing was held recently and public comments were taken in - and some even raised questions.

And the DEQ was not the only agency to receive comments from the public.

Patrick Courreges of the Department of Natural Resources said his agency is in the same position - before making any key decisions, they must review the thousands of comments they have received.

The DNR has jurisdiction over about 17 miles of coastal wetlands where the proposed pipeline is expected to pass through but before they can approve any permit, they must know exactly how much of an impact the pipeline will have.

"We're losing our coastal wetlands. Those wetlands are important - they provide the ground under our feet; they provide protection from hurricane, storm surge; make sure they also play host to plant life, wildlife, and fisheries that a lot of our economy depends on so the state doesn't allow something to go forward that is going to cost us even more," Courreges said.

If state agencies approve permits and certifications,  the permitting process will then go on to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - since the pipeline is an interstate pipeline and crosses state lines.The Army will either approve or deny a federal permit for the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

"Right now we are in the phase of the process; it's a very early phase where we are reviewing the comments and get them addressed. Everything has to be reviewed and addressed and that will give us the indication of what we need to do on our end so that we fully understand the process and whether we need to go to an EA or EIS and as well, it will give the information so that we are making the right decision made on all the information we can obtain," said Ricky Boyett with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If you would like to take a closer look at the report, click HERE.

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