Pipeline in south Louisiana complete but litigation lingers
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Owners of a newly completed south Louisiana pipeline say they expect the transport of crude oil from Lake Charles to St. James to begin Monday.
Energy Transfer and Phillips 66 Partners said in a news release that construction was recently completed. Environmentalists and some landowners fought the project in state and federal courts, challenging permits and the methods by which private land was obtained, through a process known as expropriation, to facilitate construction.
They said construction destroyed centuries-old cypress trees and animal habitat in Louisiana swampland, and they said a pipeline spill would do further damage.
Pipeline owners said government environmental impact assessments were comprehensive and found no significant impact from the project.
The 163-mile (262.31-kilometer) pipeline was the second phase of the project. The first, connecting Nederland, Texas, to Lake Charles was completed in 2016.
Energy Transfer owns 60 percent of the project; Phillips 66 Partners, 40 percent. The companies tout the project as a means of providing Louisiana refineries with “more efficient and sustainable access to North American crude oil as well as market diversification for North American producers.”
Completion was a defeat for environmental groups. Anne Rolfes, of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade was critical of state regulators and Gov. John Bel Edwards for allowing construction.
“The pipeline, however, was a public awakening that has set the scene for important battles over eminent domain and, in St. James Parish, the construction of the Formosa Plastics Plant,” she said in a news release touching on another project opposed by environmentalists.
Legal issues linger, even with completion of the pipeline.
Among them is an appeal of a state judge’s December decision allowing expropriation to proceed even though he ruled that the pipeline builders had trespassed on land of three people challenging construction. Judge Keith Comeaux awarded each of the owners $150 in compensation but allowed work to continue.
Pipeline opponents had hoped Comeaux would halt construction or, at a minimum, order a major damage award to discourage what they called the illegal taking of land. Bill Quigley, an attorney for environmentalists, said any action in the state appellate system is likely months away.
Additionally, a decision is pending in St. Martin Parish on whether 15 people will be prosecuted for trespassing onto the pipeline construction site. Quigley said those arrested had written permission from landowners.