Construction shutdowns dog ETP projects as company starts on Bayou Bridge

Posted at 3:41 PM, Feb 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 16:41:11-05

Construction on the Bayou Bridge pipeline is underway across south Louisiana, even as environmental watchdogs work to stop the project and regulators clamp down on Energy Transfer Partners’ other pipeline projects in the U.S.

Within recent months, regulators have halted ETP pipeline construction in Ohio in Pennsylvania because of spills and discharges that led to wetlands pollution and drinking water contamination. Environmental watchdogs have long pointed to ETP’s spill record as a reason why Louisiana should have denied the pipeline and have sued to revoke the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project.

Multiple agencies will oversee Bayou Bridge’s construction, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and its Office of Pipeline Safety; the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality; and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, according to Corps spokesperson Ricky Boyett.

KATC contacted the project’s regulators about whether ETP’s recent spill record has impacted their oversight of Bayou Bridge construction.

Regulators did not address ETP’s construction problems in other states, but they did state their oversight responsibilities.

Spokesperson Ricky Boyett said the Corps will maintain onsite personnel when contractors begin horizontal drilling on the project, and tribal monitors will also be onsite during construction. He said the Corps will maintain coordination with Bayou Bridge about when and how they’re working, although the company sets its own construction schedule.

"The only time that we generally establish when work can occur in certain areas or during certain time frames is if construction may impact a federal project or be related to endangered species requirements," Boyett stated in an email. "Additionally, the permittee must comply with all restrictions during high water events. Our permits allow five years for the construction of the project.  If construction cannot be completed within that time frame, the applicant would have to apply for a time extension."

Boyett noted that USACE reviews the project’s adherence to Section 404(b)(1) of the federal Clean Water Act, which regulates the disposal of dredged material.

Environmental watchdogs have long criticized the Corps’ oversight of dredged material in the Atchafalaya Basin, where they say pipeline companies for decades have created spoil banks that hinder water flow. This creates deoxygenation that destroys aquatic habitats and impacts fish and wildlife populations.

DNR’s primary focus will be on Bayou Bridge construction in this fragile coastal zone that’s set to host the pipeline’s last 17 miles, spokesperson Patrick Courreges said.

Courreges said DNR will evaluate any impacts to vegetation on that part of the construction, including through “spot checks” to make sure construction is proceeding as permitted. Bayou Bridge will also be required to submit “as-built plans” for DNR review once construction is completed.

Air and water quality monitoring is delegated to the DEQ, which issued a Water Quality Certification for the project.

DEQ spokesperson Greg Langley said that construction oversight is DNR’s responsibility, although DEQ is responsible for responding to spills or other reported or self-reported environmental impacts to water or air.

“Once the petroleum is delivered to a plant and becomes part of a processing procedure, it’s LDEQ’s responsibility,” Langley stated in an email. “That said, of course we keep an eye on the environment. We have an ambient monitoring system that would alert us to sudden changes in water quality in state streams. And we would also assist LDNR if the construction activity for a pipeline created an environmental impact that extended outside the permitted area.”

It’s unclear whether LDEQ receives the ambient data in real time. The most recent data available on the public database is more than two months old. 

PHMSA officials did not immediately respond on Wednesday to a call for comment on their oversight protocol. PHMSA’s website states the administration inspects the project throughout construction.

Pollution, contamination, unauthorized drilling halts other ETP projects

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorizes pipeline projects and has played a role in ETP’s ongoing pipeline projects.  FERC in January halted construction on ETP’s Rover natural gas pipeline in Ohio and told the company to consider an alternative to constructing the pipeline across a river there.

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency had urged federal regulators to stop the construction after the ETP subsidiary behind the project, Sunoco, logged 19 environmental violations last year. Sunoco dumped more than 2 million gallons of contaminated waste near public drinking water sources, the Ohio EPA charged.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection also halted construction of the Mariner 2 East pipeline on allegations that ETP subsidiary Sunoco failed to alert the state agency of spills and discharges and conducted unauthorized drilling. Some of that drilling contaminated private water wells. FERC also investigated that project.

KATC posed questions to ETP about how it’s working to mitigate similar problems with Bayou Bridge construction.

ETP spokesperson Alexis Daniel emailed the following statement:

“In any pipeline project, our first priority is safety; the safety of the environment, the safety of the communities through which we pass, and the safety of our employees. To achieve this, we consistently go above and beyond the safety regulations where possible, which we have done for the Bayou Bridge pipeline.”

ETP announced on Jan. 29 that it selected Sunland Construction to build about a third of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which they expect to be operable by the second half of 2018.

Sunland is a Eunice-based firm and will build about 55 miles of the pipeline from St. Martin Parish to St. James Parish, ETP stated in a press release.

They say Sunland has more than 40 years construction experience “with an expertise in shallow water marine and marsh construction in Louisiana wetlands.”

Meanwhile, environmental watchdogs are asking a federal judge to consider pulling the Corps permit for Bayou Bridge. That permit allows five years for the project’s completion.

A hearing in that case is set for Thursday at the U.S. Middle District of Louisiana courthouse in Baton Rouge.