SCOTT: Who’s Afraid Of The Bayou Bridge?

Editor’s Note: A guest post from Dr. Loren Scott, Economist and Professor Emeritus of Economics at LSU

Spill data I have examined suggest there is little environmental risk from the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

The Bucket Brigade provided Coast Guard data on 144 “pipeline accidents” in Louisiana in 2016.  Of these accidents, 85 were from pipelines carrying oil.  What we were not told are three important points for evaluating those data: (1) did the accident involve a significant spill or a teaspoon of oil; (2) how much of the oil was recovered versus lost, and (3) more importantly, how many of the accidents were from unregulated pipelines versus pipelines like Bayou Bridge that are regulated by state and federal agencies. If there were 85 significant spills from oil pipelines in 2016 no fishing areas would be open, no waters would be available to recreate, and we would all be under a drinking water ban.  Of course, none of this has happened because the spills were in general trivial and not the environmental disaster the Brigade asserts.

Officials in the Department of Natural Resources’ Pipeline Division provided us with spill data from the 4,300 miles of regulated oil pipelines in the state for the three decades since 1986.  As a reference point, during those three decades 3.3 billion barrels of oil were produced in Louisiana and 12.4 billion barrels were produced offshore Louisiana for a total of 15.7 billion barrels—most moving through our pipelines.  Of those barrels of oil, 84,658 barrels were spilled.  That is not 10 percent.  It is not one-one hundredth of a percent.  It is a decimal point followed by 7 zeros, then the number 6.  Protestors before LDEQ had a greater probability of dying from a car crash on the way home than there being an oil leak from our regulated pipelines.

Also, of the 85,000 barrels leaked, 38,000 were due to Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan.  Another 7,000 were from 3rd party damages (dragging an anchor across the pipeline).  Seventy-four percent of the spilled barrels were recovered.  Of the part not recovered the great majority was due to the hurricanes.

The age of the pipeline really matters.  A significant spill occurred in Caddo Parish in 2014 when 4,500 barrels were spilled (all but 390 barrels were recaptured).  This spill was from a pipeline laid in the 1950s before the 1970’s regulations were put in place and before all the anti-spill technological advances Bayou Bridge will put in place.

Finally, it is inane to ban the pipeline just because you know of a spill.  You know of a friend who died from a car accident, an airline crash or open heart surgery.  You do not ban those activities if the probability of disaster is tiny and the gains are large.  LDEQ should vote yes.

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