Bayou Bridge Pipeline Has the Facts on Its Side

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Has the Facts on Its Side
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Over the past several months, Louisianans have heard a lot of debate about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a nearly 170-mile transport line that will move crude oil products from the Clifton Ridge Marine Terminal in Lake Charles to refining facilities near St. James. Unfortunately, what is too often missing from the public conversation is the science, engineering, and fact-based planning of the pipeline itself.

While opponents have been successful in framing discussions around alarm-raising parameters, the realities of Bayou Bridge tell a different story. When examined on merit, the pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure that will bolster the state’s energy security, foster economic growth, and help modernize Louisiana’s energy grid.

The Bayou Bridge project originated out of the need to diversify the state’s crude oil supply. The line will be capable of transporting up to 480,000 barrels of crude petroleum products per day, which will feed regional refineries and ultimately consumer markets. A $750 million investment, nearly all of which will stay in Louisiana, will generate nearly $18 million in estimated sales tax. Construction will support as many as 2,500 jobs and $71 million in landowner payments, in addition to $35 million spent with Louisiana-based companies for project materials.

That contribution to Louisiana’s economy is significant. Even so, it should not overshadow the rigorous study and planning that went into the approval of the project. Like any major pipeline, Bayou Bridge underwent an exhaustive review process at the federal level with thorough vetting by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps’ evaluation carefully considered potential environmental impacts, both under likely scenarios and unanticipated circumstances. The assessment concluded that the project adequately accounts for environmental sensitivities; employs the best practices to reduce risk and respond in case of an incident; and minimizes the footprint along the proposed route. This last point should not be missed. Before any discussion of mitigation, the Army Corps process first examines every effort to minimize environmental impacts.

Specifically, the Corps’ report notes the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD), a technique widely used in a number of industry for protecting vulnerable landscapes like aquifers and high water tables. By boring around or under features that otherwise could be damaged, HDD enables developers to install pipe with minimal disruption. The trenchless drilling “is inherently not a risk to groundwater resources,” the report notes, and reduces impacts by allowing builders to lay the infrastructure without digging up large swaths of ground.

It is also important to consider the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in context. Opponents contend that the project will disturb 300 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp in the Atchafalaya Basin. Such a claim could leave the impression that critical habitat will be irreparably scarred. While the area in question represents only a small fraction of the Basin’s total 1.4 million acres — less than 0.03 percent — the project carefully plans to limit effects and to restore the land once completed.

What’s more, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project, concluding its assessment that the project “will not significantly affect the human environment.”

It’s also worth noting that post-construction mitigation, which the Bayou Bridge Pipeline meticulously plans for, is generally greater than one-to-one. That means after the pipe is laid, the surrounding areas will be restored to their original state, and in many places additional vegetation will be planted — resulting in a net gain of wetlands.

Sadly, many of these facts have been discounted by opponents. Ideologically against the project, adversaries have resorted to panic-inducing claims, and these seem to have taken root even at high levels. At the behest of the Sierra Club and others, a circuit court judge ordered an injunction earlier this spring that halted construction of the pipeline, citing that the Army Corps of Engineers acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in issuing approvals.

The judge’s assertion not only disregards the facts, it undermines the credibility of many of our country’s finest civil engineers and the regulatory process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a non-partisan, non-political institution, whose stewardship of many of our nation’s critical wetlands is not a responsibility they take lightly. These dedicated career men and women do not allow their analyses to be swayed by factors other than the evidence, and their work is scrupulously reviewed to ensure its integrity.

Not surprisingly, an appeals court overturned the injunction against Bayou Bridge, allowing construction to resume. A judge on the three-person appeals panel explicitly rejected claims that the project poses an environmental hazard, saying, “They are not destroying wetlands. That’s a little inaccurate.”

It often requires hard work to separate truth from emotion, and in today’s climate of instantaneous news and click-bait headlines, this can be particularly challenging. But reliable information is necessary for an honest and candid debate. I encourage Louisianans to learn the facts about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. They will find that it is a safe, necessary investment in the state’s continued growth and energy security. More important, they can have confidence in the institution of tireless professionals, our nation’s premier public engineering organization, and their ability to permit activities only in the Nation’s interest, while maintaining the reputation for environmental stewardship for which they are known.

Colonel Tom Magness (US Army, Retired) served as a commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He is the founder of the Eagle Leadership Group. He also currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition.

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