The fact that the Byhalia Connection Pipeline project is dead is being hailed as a victory by opponents regardless of the reasoning advanced by the entity that proposed to build it.
“Byhalia Connection LLC … is no longer pursuing the Byhalia Connection construction project, primarily due to lower US oil production, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brad Leone, director of communications for Plains All American, said in statement released Friday.
Jubilation spread quickly. Members and supporters of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) took to social media. Some gathered in Southwest Memphis at Alonzo Weaver Park, the scene of several passion-filled rallies against the pipeline project.
The 49-mile crude oil pipeline envisioned in the Plains All American Pipeline LP project would have cut through southwest Memphis and passed over the Memphis Sands Aquifer, the main drinking water resource for Memphis and the larger area. Opponents feared leaks and other accidents would harm the vital resource.
Justin J. Pearson, co-founder of MCAP, emerged as a key community figure spearheading opposition. On Friday, a Facebook live post showed an elated Pearson screaming with unbridled joy before making an impromptu three-minute speech.
“God be glorified,” Pearson shouted. “Today, we just got the news that the Byhalia Pipeline has been cancelled by Plains All-American and Valero Energy Corporation. …
“If anybody is asking if the movement is alive today, you have your answer. The movement lives in Memphis, Tennessee…”
Throughout pandemic-marked 2020, Plains All-American Pipeline held information meetings to share project plans, take in feedback and address concerns. From the beginning there was skepticism and push-back, with the dispute at one point becoming a court matter.
Rep. Steve Cohen appealed to President Biden to pause the project.
And on Tuesday (July 6), the Memphis City Council is set to vote on an ordinance that would create a review board to determine if projects similar to the Byhalia pipeline are safe and environmentally just. The ordinance would prevent oil pipelines from being built within 1,500 feet from parks, churches and schools.
The projected date for beginning construction of the pipeline was the first of this year. Unhindered, the pipeline was to have been finished before the end of 2021.
On October 17, Boxtown community and environmental justice advocates came together to join forces in an effort to stop the pipeline. What evolved into a movement to stop the Byhalia Connection garnered national attention.
Former Vice-President Al Gore, an environmental champion, and Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, were featured as speakers at community rallies.
“Memphis has spoken,” state Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said in an issued statement. “ I am so proud of the people in Southwest Memphis, from Boxtown and Weaver Road to West Junction! This is grassroots community action at work. This is what it looks like to take a stand and refuse to back down.
“Thank you to the organizers and leaders who lifted the voices of our neighborhoods – Justin Pearson, Kizzy Dunlap Jones, Kathy Robinson, Memphis Community Against the Pipeline and Protect Our Aquifer. Thank you!”
Pearson said there is more work to do.
“…This is our home. This is our water. This is our future. We are powerful people. We are capable people… Our movement and momentum continues to grow.”
The fight against environmental racism and environmental injustice will continue, he said.
“The cancer rate is four times the national rate in southwest Memphis. There are 17 toxic release sites in this community. But every community has a right to be treated fairly, to live a healthy existence. That fight will continue.”
In advocating for the pipeline project, Plains All American maintained its safety and promoted a plan to invest more than $20 million in communities along the routes. That included having “invested in more than 30 Mid-South organizations in 2020 to address community needs and support the people who live in proximity to our pipeline.”
In the “Update on The Byhalia Connection Project” that Plains All American issued Friday, Leone said this:
“We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project, and appreciate those that supported the project and would have shared in its ongoing benefits, including our customers, communities, energy consumers, landowners, area contractors, and suppliers…”
According to Leone in the statement, pipelines continue to play a critical role in “safely transporting energy products from where energy is produced to where it is refined and turned into consumer goods that benefit our lives.”