Bayou Bridge debate basically jobs versus environment

Greg Fischer
Ralliers hold up a sign calling for greater preservation of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Plenty can be said with regards to the proposal for construction of a new oil pipeline to be built across Southern Louisiana and the Atchafalaya Basin. 

To be clear, as far as the construction concerns Ascension, we're talking about 2 miles-worth, southwest of Donaldsonville. But in neighboring Iberville Parish, 16.3 miles of pipe; Assumption, 9.19 miles; and St. James, 8.4 miles.

The project, softly known as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, has total support of the Louisiana Propane Gas Association (LPGA) and other state and national officials. The Assumption Parish Community Center in Napoleonville hosted a public forum February 8 for those for and against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline to be heard.

Prior to the recent forum, President Kenny Lucero of the LPGA reached out to media organizations. Others are currently doing the same. The pipeline's construction is being heavily advertised. Lucero said the purpose is to make their support of the project known, mentioning that "President Trump signed an executive order calling for the streamlining of American infrastructure projects.

"In addition to the demand for American-made goods, Bayou Bridge will employ 2,500 construction workers, providing good-paying wages for Louisiana families," Lucero said in a letter to the Weekly Citizen and The Donaldsonville Chief.

But those in opposition, including environmentalists, are saying this is misleading because once the pipeline is in place only 12 permanent jobs are to come from the project. While this may be true, Baton Rouge-based Stupp Corporation is slated to manufacture the pipe that will go into the project.

Moreover, it's a $750 million dollar investment into a state that ended 2016 with a deficit of $312,665,008. It's not a pretty picture, either way, and both sides are claiming that each other's statistics are misleading.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is "an environmental health and justice organization that works primarily with communities that neighbor the state's oil refineries and chemical plants." They passed out flyers in Napoleonville with statistics about oil transfer accidents from 2015-2016.

The statistic which perhaps stands out the most is that Energy Transfer Partner, the parent company of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline had 35 reported accidents from oil pipelines that year. Notably, 28 was the number of releases into waterways. This naturally sounds alarming because the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will stretch across the entire length of the Atchafalaya Basin, about 20 miles.

"I don't know where they're getting their stuff from," Account Executive with Granado Communications Group Alexis Daniel said. "Any data can be manipulated in a certain way." Granado is the Public Relations Firm in charge of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, based in Dallas, Texas.

"Energy Transfer is operating more than 71,000 miles of pipelines," Daniel said. "In 2015, our last reported year, we were able to transport 99.9 percent of our product safely." She added that regulations have become more strict in recent years about reporting accidents. Now, if as little as five gallons of oil is spilt, it gets reported.

"I will say that we have one of the best safety records, but we're also one of the largest pipeline companies in America," Daniel said. "The carbon footprint to truck gallons and gallons and gallons of oil is not as environmentally friendly as putting it in a pipeline."

Daniel said they have been working on getting the project approved for two years, and they need just one more permit from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The crowd in Napoleonville was reportedly around 200 people. Many people in opposition rallied outside the complex before it began, holding signs with slogans: "'I can't BEAR it anymore,' 'Water is Life,' and 'Keep the oil outta my boil.'"

Rev. Harry Joseph of Mt. Triumph Baptist Church in St. James spoke in opposition. He was born in Ascension Parish, and remembers dipping his hand in the bayou to drink directly from it.

"I wouldn't do it today," Joseph said. "And if you put another pipeline there I definitely wouldn't. You might not see it, but they have things that leak.

"I oppose it because St. James, I love it, but they have people in St. James that are very sick from the plants that are already there. People are losing lives down there, and the sad part about it is these things come in and don't get the people out of the community. It's a poor community, and the few rich people that they have down there, they're gone. They done bought the rich out."

While speakers for the pipeline said their piece, some were faced with interruptions and boos from those in the crowd in opposition. A speaker from Washington, D.C was met with somebody yelling, "You're a lobbyist!" in the middle of his speech.

Bekah Knapp, an LSU student and intern in the oil and gas industry, from Gonzales, spoke bravely in favor of the project.

"My dad has been employed by the propane and gas industry for years, and recently because of the decline he actually lost his job," Knapp said. "The lack of [industry] has affected our family and has been really difficult, and even though people have been focusing on these '12 permanent jobs,' that doesn't seem important until it's your family."

Knapp also reiterated what Daniel said. Basically, that the oil will be transported anyway.

"The biggest thing with these companies is that they are doing it right. If we have the opportunity to go with someone who is going to do it right you should. Also, Ascension has outgrown the roadways, so if we're going to transport oil through the roadways, I can't even imagine how much that is going to increase traffic, road damages, and car accidents."

A lawyer from Lafayette spoke in opposition around 8:15 p.m., or just over three hours into the event. He said the project feels like a rout.

"No one is talking about the environmental impact issue on the pipeline's side. Rather, the focus is on jobs." He ended his speech by saying, "In the words of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, you can take your pipeline and stick it where the sun don't shine!"

Those in favor of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, including Daniel and Knapp, mentioned that in a perfect world people may not be as reliant on fossil fuels. But that's simply not the reality. The debate remains ongoing.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @ascensioneditor