New Orleans – Under the United States Constitution, can private fossil fuel companies legally seize private property to build oil pipelines? Do private oil pipelines that threaten sensitive ecosystems provide a real service to the public, or do they simply pad the profit margins of fossil fuel companies and their wealthy investors?
On Friday, a state judge in rural Louisiana will consider these questions and more in a preliminary hearing on the most significant legal challenge to date against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a 162-mile oil pipeline that bisects much of southern Louisiana and the sensitive Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp.
Most of the pipeline has already been built, and it’s expected to connect Louisiana refineries and export facilities to the Dakota Access Pipeline that faced sustained Indigenous-led resistance at Standing Rock in 2016.
Across the country, states allow for-profit pipeline companies to seize private land under laws governing eminent domain, which is the government’s right to expropriate private property for public use in exchange for compensation. Many rural landowners lack the resources necessary to challenge wealthy oil and gas firms. A sweeping ruling against the Bayou Bridge’s attempt to expropriate private property in Louisiana could curb the fossil fuel industry’s ability to ram infrastructure projects through local communities nationwide. The Iowa Supreme Court recently heard a similar legal challenge to the Dakota Access Pipeline that also threatens the industry’s power.
Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco and Phillips 66, the three fossil fuel companies behind Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC, had expected construction to be completed by now. However, construction was halted in September by a preliminary legal agreement after a showdown on 38 acres of private property in the Atchafalaya’s thick swampland, where landowners allege that pipeline…