February 28, 2018 / 7:44 PM / 7 months ago

Judge says she blocked Louisiana pipeline permit on 'irreparable harm' concern

HOUSTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - A judge in Louisiana who halted development of a section of Energy Transfer Partners' Bayou Bridge oil pipeline last week said on Tuesday that her decision was designed to prevent "further irreparable harm" to wetlands.

U.S. district judge Shelly Dick on Friday issued a temporary injunction preventing work on an extension to the Bayou Bridge system, revoking a permit and siding with environmentalists and fishermen who have expressed concerns about its potential effect on the local economy and wildlife.

The $750 million pipeline, which is already under construction, is intended to move crude oil from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to St. James, Louisiana, and pass through the Atchafalaya Basin, a nearly one million acre (400,000 hectare) wetland that is vital to the state's flood protection system and commercial fishing industry.

The court battle renews a struggle between the oil industry and environmentalists, who are using lawsuits to halt or delay new infrastructure projects. Energy Transfer Partners faced similar controversy over its Dakota Access Pipeline, which was temporarily halted following protests but ultimately began service last year.

"Bayou Bridge Pipeline respectfully disagrees with the District Court's ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers did not properly consider the limited impacts of construction in the Atchafalaya Basin," a spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners said by email on Wednesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted two comprehensive environmental reviews that found no significant impact in the basin, she said.

A representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to comment.

Energy Transfer said this week that it was appealing the ruling.

Environmentalists and local fisherman say so-called spoil banks created during pipeline dredging disrupt natural water flow in the basin and suffocate crawfish.

Louisiana is home to large oil refineries and has many pipelines that cut across the Atchafalaya Basin.

"The court confirmed that the Army Corps can't just keep issuing more permits for pipelines in the Atchafalaya, and ignoring the fact that they are routinely violated," Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice, the group representing the plaintiffs, said on Wednesday.

"After decades of noncompliance with the law - which has devastated the Basin - there is a glimmer of hope that the oil and gas industry will start being held accountable," he added.

The Association of Oil Pipe Lines, an industry group, said pipelines have the least amount of local environmental and climate change impacts compared with other transport methods. (Reporting by Liz Hampton, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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