Preliminary Injunction Issued Stalling Oil Pipeline Construction in Atchafalaya Basin


On February 27, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by a group of environmental plaintiffs seeking to halt the construction of an oil pipeline in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, which has received Clean Water Act (CWA) permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The case is Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, et al., v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The pipeline is a project of Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC. The District Court held a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction on February 8-9 and, in its 60-page ruling, held that the plaintiffs had satisfied the Fifth Circuit’s standards for granting a preliminary injunction. The construction of the pipeline will be halted pending the results of trial on the merits.

The Corps prepared two Environmental Assessments (EAs) and determined that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was not required. However, the plaintiffs alleged that the Corps’ review failed properly to assess the environmental impacts of building a pipeline in this sensitive area, and neglected a “long history” of alleged noncompliance by other Corps permittees in violation of NEPA. In addition, they alleged that the Corps failed to properly consider the risks of oil spills by the pipeline in violation of the CWA and that it relied on an inadequate mitigation of the risks, violating NEPA and the CWA.

The District Court determined that:

(a) the plaintiffs established a threat of irreparable harm to the hydrology of the Atchafalaya Basin and its rapidly diminishing wetlands;

(b) the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits (even though the court rejected their argument on the Corps consideration of the threat of oil spills) because the Corps “illegally dismissed” the allegation of historic past non-compliance with Corps permits and did not properly address the environmental impacts of the project; and

(c) the balance of harms and the public interest weighs in favor of the plaintiffs. The pipeline’s argument that it faces dire financial harms was not sufficiently demonstrated, and the court believes it could take other measures to limit its damages. However, despite the fact that the lawsuit was brought by non-profit groups (including the Sierra Club), they must post a bond, otherwise required by law when seeking such relief, of $10,000.