U.S. Judge Halts Construction of Controversial Louisiana Oil Pipeline

The delta of the Atchafalaya River on the Gulf of Mexico.

The delta of the Atchafalaya River on the Gulf of Mexico. Arthur Belala/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A federal judge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana has revoked a permit for the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline, immediately halting construction of the project, which would carry up to 480,000 barrels of crude oil daily 163 miles across the state’s Atchafalaya River basin. The nearly 1 million-acre expanse of swampland is a key component of the state’s flood protection system and home to a vital fishing industry, according to Reuters.

Construction of the $750 million, 30-inch pipeline, which would stretch from Lake Charles to St. James, Louisiana, began in January. If finished, it would link up with an existing pipeline system that originates in Texas, and could help carry U.S.-produced oil to refineries along the Mississippi River. The project is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the company also behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, and oil refiner Phillips 66.

Environmentalists and fisherman who filed suit to stop the project argue that dredging the Atchafalaya to build the pipeline could alter water flows in the ecosystem and increase risk of flooding in the area. They also contend that a crude oil spill from the pipeline could devastate local fisheries, according to The Times-Picayune.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick heard testimony from the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, as well as several wetland scientists, on February 8. Last Friday, she ordered construction of the pipeline to stop immediately “to prevent further irreparable harm” to the ecosystem, and directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revisit its approval of the project’s route through the Atchafalaya Basin, Reuters reported.

“The court’s ruling recognizes the serious threat this pipeline poses to the Atchafalaya Basin, one of our country’s ecological and cultural crown jewels,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney from Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups in court, said in a statement. “For now, at least, the Atchafalaya is safe from this company’s incompetence and greed.”