Under presssure, company cancels Tennessee pipeline

Credit: MGN

Environmentalists are claiming victory after a company canceled plans to build an oil pipeline through southwest Tennessee and north Mississippi and over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people.

Posted: Jul 4, 2021 6:33 AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Environmentalists and activists claimed victory Saturday after a company canceled plans to build an oil pipeline through southwest Tennessee and north Mississippi, and over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people.

Byhalia Connection said it will no longer pursue plans to build a 49-mile (79-kilometer) underground artery that would have linked two major U.S. oil pipelines while running through wetlands and under poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods in south Memphis.

A joint venture between Valero and Plains All American Pipeline, Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would bring jobs and tax revenue to the region — and it had given to Memphis-area charities and tried to build goodwill in the community. But, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday, Byhalia Connection said it was canceling the project “due to lower U.S. oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

"We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project, and appreciate those that supported the project,” Byhalia Connection's statement said.

Byhalia Connection would have linked the east-west Diamond Pipeline through the Valero refinery in Memphis to the north-south Capline Pipeline near Byhalia, Mississippi. The Capline, which has transported crude oil from a Louisiana port on the Gulf of Mexico north to the Midwest, is being reversed to deliver oil south through Mississippi to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf.

Byhalia Connection also would have run through well fields above the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides slightly sweet drinking water to the Memphis area. Environmentalists, activist groups, lawyers, property owners, national and local elected officials, and even former Vice President Al Gore opposed the project. They feared an oil spill would have endangered waterways and possibly contaminated the water being pumped out of the ground through wells located along the planned route.

Opponents said the plans reminded them of environmental racism — the practice of placing toxic factories, landfills and other polluters in minority neighborhoods and indigenous areas, where voiceless residents only realize the danger after people get sick.

The pipeline would have run under Memphis neighborhoods such as White Chapel, Westwood and Boxtown, which began as a community of freed slaves in the 1860s and where homes had no running water or electricity as recently as the 1970s.

Justin J. Pearson, a leader of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline activist group, called the decision “an extraordinary testament to what Memphis and Shelby County can do when citizens build power toward justice.”

Byhalia Connection had said the pipeline would be built a safe distance from the aquifer, which sits much deeper than the planned pipeline route.

Byhalia Connection also has said the pipeline route was not driven by factors such as race or class. The company denied accusations of environmental racism that emerged after a Byhalia Connection land agent said during a community meeting that the developers “took, basically, a point of least resistance” in choosing the pipeline’s path.

Project officials had reached deals with most landowners on the planned pipeline’s route to use their land for construction. A few holdouts were taken to court.

The pipeline’s lawyers sought eminent domain, long invoked by governments to claim private property for public-use projects. Lawyers for the holdouts argued that eminent domain could not be used in the case of a private company seeking to build an oil pipeline in Tennessee.

In April, Byhalia Connection said it was going to pause the legal action after the Memphis City Council began considering an ordinance that would have made it harder for the company to build the pipeline.

No vote has been held on the ordinance, which was one of several strategies meant to put public pressure on Plains and Valero.

Activists held community rallies, including one attended by Gore. Lawyers sued in federal court, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline under a nationwide permit. The Shelby County Commission refused to sell to the pipeline builder two parcels of land that sit on the planned route.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, and about two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter asking the administration of President Joe Biden to reconsider the permit approval.

A Byhalia Connection spokesman did not respond to an emailed question asking whether the community's resistance influenced the decision to end the project.

But Amanda Garcia, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who helped landowners in their legal battle against the pipeline, said the community's fight was inspiring.

“The cancellation of the Byhalia Pipeline is a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it a triumph for environmental justice,” Garcia said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 468498

Reported Deaths: 9100
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison31907468
Hinds30552569
DeSoto29532342
Jackson22868335
Rankin21016355
Lee14393214
Madison13961263
Jones13053215
Forrest12879231
Lauderdale11244292
Lowndes10148171
Lamar9972122
Pearl River8569208
Lafayette8008136
Hancock7110107
Oktibbeha6764117
Washington6756146
Neshoba6350200
Monroe6304156
Warren6267159
Panola6036122
Pontotoc599292
Bolivar5960143
Marshall5917115
Union558885
Pike5424133
Lincoln5192127
Alcorn509388
George454766
Scott447392
Leflore4377138
Tippah431780
Itawamba429192
Prentiss429074
Copiah423883
Simpson4238108
Wayne419663
Tate418999
Adams4174109
Yazoo411486
Sunflower4057104
Covington404891
Marion399699
Leake389784
Coahoma385996
Newton360273
Grenada3489100
Stone342657
Tishomingo320987
Attala318285
Jasper308261
Winston298191
Clay282672
Chickasaw277464
Clarke271784
Holmes257685
Calhoun256939
Smith241546
Yalobusha215447
Tallahatchie213849
Walthall203457
Lawrence202431
Greene202045
Perry195053
Amite191251
Webster191141
Noxubee173437
Montgomery168652
Jefferson Davis164041
Carroll158936
Tunica146533
Benton137531
Kemper136538
Claiborne124134
Choctaw123824
Humphreys122036
Franklin114127
Quitman100925
Wilkinson98335
Jefferson85832
Sharkey61620
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 757893

Reported Deaths: 12784
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1082301712
Mobile694251158
Madison47738562
Baldwin35347420
Shelby34758281
Tuscaloosa32576495
Montgomery32249645
Lee21576200
Calhoun19621363
Morgan19061307
Etowah18363413
Marshall17028252
Houston15881337
St. Clair14724270
Limestone13908178
Elmore13812239
Cullman13756228
Lauderdale12909263
Talladega12124200
DeKalb11705220
Walker10047303
Autauga9371119
Blount9272146
Jackson8970132
Coffee8550150
Colbert8229160
Dale8162142
Escambia632298
Tallapoosa6255165
Covington6214153
Chilton6152128
Russell586753
Franklin558292
Chambers5155127
Dallas4569173
Marion4490114
Clarke447070
Pike439188
Geneva415999
Lawrence4002101
Winston399982
Bibb388975
Barbour334667
Marengo317778
Monroe306844
Butler305878
Pickens296166
Henry288550
Randolph288255
Hale282981
Cherokee275649
Fayette268569
Washington241844
Crenshaw226962
Clay219260
Macon211154
Cleburne205746
Lamar184638
Conecuh173337
Lowndes167856
Coosa160031
Wilcox153033
Bullock145642
Perry132430
Sumter122635
Greene117941
Choctaw71925
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 85°
Columbus
Cloudy
75° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 75°
Oxford
Cloudy
77° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 79°
Starkville
Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 89°
The combo of a no named front and former tropical system Nicholas' leftovers will continue leave us with some pretty decent chances for some showers and thunderstorms over the next several days.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather