Louisiana has over 100,000 miles of pipeline, and the most recent addition, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, is causing major headaches for homeowners along the route. Just like with the Dakota Access Pipeline, not everyone wants it crossing their backyard. Like Pat Trahan. When she raised concerns about potential environmental damage and tried to negotiate with the company building the Bayou pipeline, her family was threatened with a lawsuit.
“It just sounded like they have more lawyers than we could ever have, and they'd eventually win,” Trahan told VICE News. “They wore my husband down.”
The pipeline is part of a huge network that includes the Dakota Access Pipeline, and moves crude from Dakota’s Bakken oilfield to refineries and export terminals hundreds of miles south. In Louisiana, oil pipeline companies have almost unlimited powers of eminent domain, meaning they can take private property in court when landowners refuse to sell. And Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Bayou Bridge, hasn’t been shy about using this right along the pipeline’s 163-mile route.
Unlike gas pipelines, which are federally regulated by FERC, oil pipelines that don’t cross state lines are regulated by the states themselves. In South Carolina, for example, it’s illegal for pipeline companies to use eminent domain at all. In other states, a Utilities Board or Public Service Commission typically oversees which companies can sue landowners for rights to private property. Iowa landowners, for example, sued the state’s Utility Board for allowing Energy Transfer partners to expropriate land for the Dakota Access pipeline.
But Louisiana is different. It automatically gives oil pipelines the right to use eminent domain, and the Public Service Commission doesn’t get involved.
Anne Rolfes, executive director of environmental group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said property owners ultimately have no option to object to a pipeline crossing their land.
“We've realized that there isn't any oversight and that the state isn't carrying out its function regarding eminent domain,” said Rolfes. “I think it's an issue on which really conservative lawmakers are quite concerned because it's about companies seizing private property.”
We spoke to Trahan and several other families who said they were threatened with legal action when they questioned the contracts they were presented with. Many chose to settle out of court because a court battle would be too expensive. It's taken quite a toll.