Lawmakers, community leaders raising concerns about proposed pipeline

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 10:38 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Environmental racism and social injustice--those are the accusations coming from citizens and government leaders who oppose building a new oil pipeline through Memphis.

With Memphis in a water crisis right now, protecting the city’s source of water is top of mind.

During a Zoom meeting organized by Tennessee State Representative Barbara Cooper Wednesday, February 24, it’s clear a lot of folks are worried the Byhalia Pipeline could endanger the Memphis aquifer.

More: City council has yet to vote on the resolution opposing the Byhalia Pipeline

“We’ve had a lot of environmental problems,” Rep. Cooper said during the call, “We’ve been fighting environmental problems ever since I was elected in 1996.” Cooper’s latest battle is waging war against the Byhalia Pipeline: a 49-mile long crude oil pipeline that would run from Memphis to Byhalia, Mississippi, cutting right through historically Black communities in Cooper’s Southwest Memphis district.

Dr. Ronne Adkins with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has deep roots in South Memphis.

His mom went to Ford Road Elementary and Mitchell High School.

He told those listening to the Zoom call that he has a vested interest in making sure the community is cared for in the proper way.

He said the state permit issued to the pipeline developers, subsidiaries of Plains All American Pipeline and Valero, did not require an impact study on the aquifer.

“The construction of the pipeline involves shallow trenching and boring techniques,” Adkins said, “So it should not cross or go through the regional aquifer. Again, this is going to be a shallow pipeline, so we don’t anticipate impacts to the aquifer.”

Several Memphis City Council members opposed to the plan are now looking at legal options.

“It’s a dumb thing to do on top of an earthquake-prone area near the New Madrid fault,” said Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren, “So, we’re hoping we can stop it. If we can slow it down enough or stop it, then we will be able to protect the aquifer for generations to come.”

Pipeline protests like the one Tuesday where demonstrators marched from the National Civil Rights museum to city hall are becoming more frequent.

“People are important. For too long the people in Boxtown and Westwood and South Memphis,” said Justin Pearson with Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, “have been neglected by institutions and people who are in positions of power. And time’s up for that.”

Byhalia Pipeline officials told WMC Action News 5 that more than 10 major oil and gas pipelines already operate safely over the Memphis aquifer.

More: MLGW gives latest information on water conditions

They say the Byhalia Pipeline will be 3-4 feet underground and it will not be built under homes. 62 of 67 lots needed for the project are vacant.

Critics say all Memphis neighborhoods should be worried about this project.

“What affects one area affects us all,” said Rep. Cooper, “whether you know it or not, it really does.”

Byhalia Connection Pipeline, the official name given to the joint venture between the Plains All American Pipeline and Valero subsidiaries, has donated more than $1 million to local non-profits and groups including the Mid-South Food Bank and the Memphis chapter of the NAACP.

The Memphis City Council is expected to discuss the Byhalia Pipeline at its next meeting on March 2.

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