BATON ROUGE, La. - The company building a crude oil pipeline through environmentally sensitive wetlands in Louisiana's swampy Cajun Country asked a federal judge Monday to suspend her own order temporarily halting construction.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC asked U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick for a ruling on that request by Tuesday so that it can pursue an appeal "if necessary."
On Friday, Dick halted construction through the fragile Atchafalaya Basin, ruling in a lawsuit filed by environmentalists. The company said the construction halt could cost it close to $1 million per day — $1.6 million daily if the order is deemed to apply to the entire length of the pipeline in Louisiana.
Construction began in January, the same month that The Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying the Corps violated environmental laws by granting a permit for the pipeline.
The lawsuit claims the Corps didn't adequately consider the project's oil spill risks. In a recent hearing, Dick heard testimony that the project is tearing down centuries-old trees, destroying animal habitats and jeopardizing fishermen's livelihoods.
Company attorneys said the Corps' permit requires Bayou Bridge Pipeline to restore the basin's "pre-existing wetland contours and conditions" once the project is done. The Corps says it completed two environmental assessments for the project before issuing the permit.
The company said the pipeline "serves the public interest in terms of energy development, jobs, tax revenue, and so forth," and that Dick's Friday order is leading to huge, unnecessary costs.
Dick didn't issue written reasons for granting a temporary halt to construction, saying she would do so later. It was unclear whether she would comply with Bayou Bridge's request for a quick reconsideration. The company has already filed a formal notice that it plans to take the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans if Dick's ruling stands.
The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the last link in a pipeline network connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals. The south Louisiana pipeline is designed to have a maximum capacity of 480,000 barrels, or roughly 20 million gallons (75 million litres), of crude a day.
The Atchafalaya basin is the nation's largest river swamp and includes roughly 880,000 acres (356,000 hectares) of forested wetlands, according to the groups' lawsuit.
Three people were arrested Monday during a protest at a Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site.
An Assumption Parish Sheriff's Office commander, Lonny Cavalier, confirmed Monday's arrest of three New Orleans residents at the site near Belle Rose.
Benjamin Quimby, Pippin Calder and Margaret Logue faced charges including resisting arrest. Cavalier said they were waiting for bail to be set Monday evening. Anne Rolfes, of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade environmental group, says the three arrested were among 50 demonstrators who protested Monday at a section of the pipeline project not affected by the judge's order.
Kevin McGill reported from New Orleans.