A company building a crude oil pipeline in Louisiana expects to complete the construction project by October if a federal appeals court doesn’t order another halt to the work.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC’s attorneys said in a court filing Wednesday that construction of the entire 163-mile (260-kilometre) pipeline was nearly 76 per cent complete as of Sunday.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether the company can continue building the pipeline through the environmentally fragile Atchafalaya Basin swamp. Last Friday, the panel asked for an update on the work.
In February, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick issued a preliminary injunction stopping pipeline construction in the basin until environmental groups’ lawsuit over the project is resolved.
In March, however, a different 5th Circuit panel agreed to suspend Dick’s order pending a final decision by the appeals court. That ruling allowed the company to resume construction.
During a hearing in April, company lawyers urged the New Orleans-based appeals court to throw out Dick’s order. The panel hasn’t ruled yet.
In the meantime, workers are still cutting down trees in the basin to clear a path for the pipeline. As of Sunday, the company had cleared approximately 164 acres of trees (out of a total of 262 acres) and estimated it will finish that work by Aug. 8, according to Wednesday’s court filing.
All construction work in the basin, including the laying of pipe, was nearly 11 per cent complete as of Sunday and is on track to be finished by October, company lawyers wrote.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.
Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who represents the groups, said the company could finish the construction work before their lawsuit is resolved if the 5th Circuit throws out Dick’s order.
“It’s a race against time,” Hasselman said Wednesday.
Dick concluded that the project’s irreversible environmental damage outweighed the economic harm that a delay brought to the company. The judge said the project potentially threatens the hydrology of the basin. She agreed with environmental groups that centuries-old “legacy” trees can’t be replaced once they’re cut down.
But the appeals court’s ruling in March said the company is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim that Dick abused her discretion in granting the injunction. Dick should have allowed the case to proceed “on the merits” and sought additional information about the “deficiencies” she identified in her ruling, the panel’s majority opinion added.
The basin accounts for approximately 25 miles (35 kilometres) of the pipeline’s path from Lake Charles to St. James Parish. Dick’s order applied to the basin only and didn’t prevent the company from working elsewhere along the pipeline’s route.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC is a joint venture of Dallas-based 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.