Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Oil Pipeline in Mobile Watershed

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Caution sign by the bridge leading to Big Creek Lake

By Glynn Wilson –

The fight over an oil pipeline through the drinking water supply for Mobile, Alabama has landed in court.

Environmental groups are challenging a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Plains Southcap, LLC pipeline routed through the Big Creek Lake watershed.

The lawsuit filed Friday in Federal Court in Alabama’s Southern District by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper charges that the Corps’ authorization of the crude oil pipeline’s route threatens the safety of the local water supply.

If allowed to be finished — no guarantee since it is still being debated by municipal authorities in Mobile — the 41-mile-long pipeline could transport up to 150,000 to 200,000 barrels per day (or 6.3 to 8.4 million gallons per day) of tar sands crude or other types of oil through the watershed of Big Creek Lake and Hamilton Creek, the primary drinking water source for a majority of Mobile County, as well as the cities of Mobile, Prichard, Semmes, Saraland, Chickasaw, Spanish Fort and other municipalities.

“The law requires that a project of this magnitude go through a more rigorous and appropriate evaluation,” said Keith Johnston, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s office in Birmingham. “A crude oil pipeline within close proximity of the drinking water supply is a major concern and must be considered by the Army Corps in its permitting process.”

The Corps of Engineers approved this pipeline in January 2013 under the nationwide permit program, a streamlined permitting process designed to approve projects with little environmental impact. The legal challenge requests that the Corps withdraw the nationwide 12 permit verifications and require Plains Southcap, LLC to apply for and obtain an individual permit before completing construction of the pipeline.

The interstate pipeline is planned to stretch from Plains Southcap’s Ten-Mile Crude Oil Facility in Mobile and extend southwest to the Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi, approximately one mile from the Gulf of Mexico.

Local opposition to the project has continued to grow, and city and elected officials have expressed concerns over the pipeline’s proximity to the water supply and asked for alternative routes to be considered. Along with local utility provider Daphne Utilities, several cities and towns including Mobile, Daphne, Prichard, Semmes, Spanish Fort, and Bayou La Batre have signed resolutions opposing a crude oil pipeline in their drinking water watershed. Furthermore, the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System has fought against the condemnation of their land in the watershed.

“Pipelines aren’t foolproof, and it’s our communities who pay the price when they break,” said Casi Callaway, Executive Director for Mobile Baykeeper. “What happened in West Virginia shows us just how important it is to protect our drinking water.”

More than 200 concerned citizens, public officials and environmental activists showed up at a citizens-called town hall public hearing last July to learn more about a plan to pump thick, hot Canadian tar sands crude oil making its way to the Gulf Coast in rail cars through a new pipeline under the Mobile area’s fresh drinking water reservoir.

The fight has intensified ever since, and a number of activist groups, including the Alabama and Mobile Bay chapters of the Sierra Club, have vowed to stop the pipeline even if that means putting their bodies on the line in acts of civil disobedience.

Pipe trade unions in South Alabama also picketed Plains Southcap for bringing in out of state, non-union labor to build the pipeline.

Bus loads of citizens also protested the pipeline permit at the Alabama Public Service Commission in October.

Read the lawsuit complaint here.


A map showing the route of the new pipeline


A couple of fishing boats on Big Creek Lake

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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