Memphis residents pushed back against the Byhalia Pipeline project. (Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht)
The Byhalia Connection pipeline project has been abandoned by its developers but Memphis council members continue to push legislation to protect the Memphis Sand Aquifer.
On Tuesday, an ordinance for protecting Shelby County’s natural water source was up for a final reading, but was withdrawn. In its place, councilmember JB Smiley introduced a substitute aquifer ordinance to establish an Underground Infrastructure Advisory Board, which will oversee that all future projects are not within 1,000 feet of public water supplies.
Byhalia pipeline representatives attended Tuesday’s council meetings and expressed disapproval of the legislation despite no longer pursuing the project.
“It was clear when [the original legislation] was drafted that it was designed to stop our project,” said Cory Thornton, an attorney for Plains All American Pipeline.
Thornton added that city officials had no legal basis for the substitute ordinance and planned on challenging it if approved. The substitute ordinance is up for a first reading on July 20.
“These are no longer just anti-crude oil pipeline legislation, they have become anti-industry initiatives that will have an impact on the infrastructure that Memphis-are residents rely on every day,” he said.
This marks the latest development in nearly a year-long legal battle between Memphis residents, environmental advocates and pipeline officials.
Memphis and Shelby County’s population of almost a million residents rely solely on a natural supply of water as a drinking source. Last year, Plains All American Pipeline and a subsidiary of Valero announced their intent to build a pipeline between Memphis and Mississippi and drew criticism from environmental-justice advocates, who believed the pipeline to be an unnecessary risk to a local community already burdened by nearby oil refineries.
An opposition group led by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline captured national attention as they held rallies to draw attention on whether the risks to the groundwater were properly assessed.
Friday, Byhalia Pipeline officials announced that they were no longer pursuing the project because COVID-19 had affected oil production.
“We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project and would have shared in its ongoing benefits including our customers, communities, energy consumers, landowners, area contractors and suppliers,” said Brad Leone, director of communications, in a press release. The announcement was followed by celebrations from community members and their supporters, including former vice president Al Gore, who tweeted a congratulatory message.
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