Protesters Ready to Put 'Bodies on the Line' to Block Southern End of Dakota Access Pipeline

Protesters in Louisiana say they are ready to put their “bodies on the line” if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which is the tail end of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s network.

“If the permits get issued and it’s a ‘yes,’ then we’re going to do whatever it is we have to do to protect our wetlands, to protect our families from this company and from this particular project,” Cherri Foytlin, director of the activist group Bold Louisiana, told PJM in an interview last week. “If we have to put our bodies on the line, we’ll do that.”

The $670 million, 160-mile pipeline would run through 11 Louisiana parishes encompassing the Atchafalaya Basin, which is the largest wetland and swamp in the country. The pipeline would allow transport of oil and gas from North Dakota to refineries in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, while also providing access to a major hub in Texas.

The Atchafalaya Basin is already home to a series of pipelines serving oil and gas companies that employ more than 64,000 people in the state, according to the Times-Picayune. It’s also home to 700 bodies of water and 600 acres of wetlands that Foytlin said will be destroyed if the pipeline is approved. She said the region is losing land at the rate of a football field an hour to development.

“Losing those wetlands is what causes us to be closer to storms, have more hurricanes,” Foytlin said, explaining that the wetlands serve as a storm buffer while soaking up water.

Construction will require three approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as two state approvals.

“One of the things we have to look at is: Is the project in the public interest?” Ricky Boyett, chief of public affairs for the Corps’ New Orleans District, told PJM. “If we do not feel that we can make the decision (based on the environmental assessment), or if the EA comes back with a finding of ‘significant impact,’ then that kind of triggers us to look at the (environmental impact statement).”

Foytlin’s group is requesting that the Corps complete an EIS, which is a much more comprehensive review that could significantly delay the approval process.

The fate of the EIS will be largely dictated by section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which lays out guidelines for analyzing impacts on wetlands. The Corps also needs to perform a Rivers and Harbors Act analysis in determining whether the project will impact the flow or navigation of a federal waterway. The third approval concerns section 408 of the Clean Water Act, in which the Corps will determine the project’s impact on any existing federal project or property. In this case, the Corps will determine whether pipeline construction would affect the operation of Louisiana levies.

Before the Corps can complete its assessment, Energy Transfer Partners will need to acquire a permit from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and a water quality certification from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

“Right now, we’re really early in the process,” Boyett said, noting that the agency is still reviewing comments from governmental bodies, environmentalists, and the general public. “There are some things that need to be done in advance of our decision, but we’ll render our decision once we feel that we’ve done a full evaluation and can make the right decision.”

In addition to wetland degradation, Bold Louisiana is concerned about the impact on the crawfish industry and the bayou, which provides drinking water to some 300,000 people. Foytlin said the existing pipelines run east to west, blocking the natural flow of water, reducing oxygen in the water and killing crawfish.

She also described Energy Transfer Partners as a “heinous company,” noting its role in what she described as human rights violations on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during protests against the company’s construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to indigenous groups, more than 300 people were treated for injuries after a confrontation with police on Nov. 20, when protesters were blasted with fire hoses and pelted with rubber bullets and concussion grenades.

“We want the right to say ‘no’; this company is an egregious company who has hurt people in other places, who has caused pollution, who takes land by eminent domain for their profit gain, who wants to put a pipeline in for export,” Foytlin said. “That’s all we’re asking for – the right to say ‘no’ and be heard and listened to.”

According to Foytlin, more than 500 people have signed the pledge to protest.

ETP spokeswoman Alexis Daniel said in an email Friday that the company has met with a number of concerned groups while working through the project, including the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Nature Conservancy, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association and the Sierra Club.

"As with building any infrastructure project, we respect that there will always be a range of different opinions and concerns," she said. "It is always our goal to work closely with affected landowners, governments and the neighboring communities to foster long-term relationships and build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible."

The company plans to restore the project area to preconstruction contours and elevations and to restore work areas in the basin back to the natural grade, Daniel said, as compared to the adjacent undisturbed land or wetlands. Crews are also exploring techniques for improving basin water quality and flow.