Protestors in Louisiana have taken to trees in a last-ditch effort to prevent the ongoing construction of a crude oil pipeline strongly opposed by residents. Opponents have argued that the pipeline will harm the environment and public health, with at least one low-income, majority-Black community expected to be disproportionately impacted.
Video footage shared Tuesday on the Twitter account @NoBayouBridge and filmed by tree sitters purportedly shows workers employed by the company Energy Transfer Partners cutting down trees to make way for the pipeline.
“You’re putting me and my friend’s life in danger, stop cutting!” a woman yells in the video, generating a muffled response from a worker below.
Footage just taken at the tree sits in the Atchafalaya Basin in the path of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. ETP is clearing trees DANGEROUSLY close to the sits — you can hear the sitters advocating for their safety. #NoBayouBridge #StopETP pic.twitter.com/EBdmXCyk96
— Leau Est La Vie Camp (@NoBayouBridge) July 24, 2018
Additional images shared on the Twitter account, which uses the name “L’eau est la vie camp” (“water is life camp”), show sit-ins established in the Atchafalaya Basin, directly in the path intended for the pipeline. According to No Bayou Bridge, the protests have been ongoing since July 16, around 10 days ago.
“The L’eau Est La Vie camp is protecting our water and our way of life from the Bayou Bridge pipeline,” the group’s Twitter account notes.
Water has been a key concern underlying pipeline protests around the country, as fossil fuel extraction often compromises the resource. Indigenous tribes have popularized the term “water protector” to describe their efforts to protect water sources from contamination.
In a live video shared on Tuesday from the group’s Facebook page, an activist self-identified as a water protector called for help and said local police were attempting to cut off support to tree sitters. Temperatures in the area have hovered around 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the past several days, with the southern United States currently experiencing a severe heat wave.
“No one is breaking the law, not one law has been broken,” the activist emphasized, going on to add that, “all waters are connected” and emphasizing that the Bayou Bridge pipeline threatens crucial water sources.
Controversy has dogged the pipeline since it was announced in 2015 as part of the greater Dakota Access pipeline system. The project, being developed by Bayou Bridge LLC (a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners), is intended to run 162.5 miles from Louisiana’s Lake Charles area to St. James, about an hour away from New Orleans. The crude oil pipeline is meant to bring state oil refineries closer to neighboring energy hub Texas, currently in the midst of a staggering oil boom.
The Bayou Bridge pipeline is set to transport 280,000 barrels of crude oil daily across the state, something that has alarmed environmental advocates, who say the project will bring fossil fuels into contact with hundreds of waterways and delicate wetland areas.
That includes the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest river swamp in the United States and an area filled with sensitive bayous and marshes. The pipeline will also come into close contact with drinking water used by several hundred thousand residents. But requests for an Environmental Impact Statement from the Army Corps of Engineers were rejected and the project received a green light in December 2017.
Residents are concerned for their health as well as for the environment. While the pipeline’s supporters have touted the effort as a job creator, members of St. James Parish’s largely Black community have decried the effort, saying the pipeline will box them in and expose them to deadly toxins.
Nicknamed “Cancer Alley” for its swift transformation from a small rural area to a chemical and oil hub, St. James has only one road running in and out of the area. If a pipeline were to fail, residents say, their only exit would be blocked.
In May, a state district court judge sided with St. James residents who sued arguing that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had failed to ensure their safety and account for emergency evacuation measures. Judge Alvin Turner Jr. also noted in his ruling that Louisiana’s support for fossil fuel industries seemingly comes at the expense of Black residents.
That decision marked a victory for pipeline opponents, but construction on the project ultimately continued regardless, despite clashes over the legality of the endeavor. Other ongoing legal efforts challenging the pipeline remain in limbo while the pipeline nears completion.
But pipeline opponents aren’t giving up. Anne Rolfes, the founding director of the non-profit environmental health and justice group Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB), told ThinkProgress on Wednesday morning that her group has been actively involved in fighting the pipeline’s development.
While LABB did not arrange the tree protests, Rolfes emphasized that the pipeline poses a major environmental threat to Louisiana, a coastal state threatened by sea level rise, in addition to exposing vulnerable communities to fossil fuel extraction.
“It’s the usual story in Louisiana: an African American community is in the bull’s eye of a polluting, dangerous project,” Rolfes said. “The community is already sick, suffering pollution from the eight facilities already in their community. And they don’t even have a dedicated evacuation route. If there is an explosion or fire, they are trapped.”
Louisiana is one of several states eyeing legislation targeting pipeline protesters, something that could complicate the efforts of activists working to stop efforts like the Bayou Bridge pipeline. But as of Wednesday, opponents showed no signs of relenting, actively calling for ongoing resistance to the project.
“If you live in Louisiana you understand what a blood sucker the oil industry is,” Rolfes said. “Sure, the industry has robust PR to paint an alternate picture, but the truth is apparent: the oil industry is destroying our state.”
Other pipeline protests across the country have also spurred a flurry of activism. A
number of protesters staged tree sit-ins this spring opposing two planned pipelines slated to run through Virginia: the Mountain Valley pipeline and the Atlantic Coast pipeline. The most widely-covered protest in recent years was against the Dakota Access pipeline, which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has vehemently opposed. That protest has since sparked similar movements opposing other pipelines.