Plains All American asks Memphis for ‘pause’ on pipeline project as city council considers ordinance

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A company facing resistance to its plans to build an oil pipeline over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people has asked for a “mutual pause” in its dispute with city officials in Memphis, as it evalutates other options.

Plains All American Pipeline sent a letter to the Memphis City Council discussing a proposed city law that could make it more difficult to construct an underground oil pipeline through wetlands and neighborhoods in south Memphis and north Mississippi.

Memphis City Council members delayed a vote on the proposed ordinance against the pipeline Tuesday.

Councilman Jeff Warren said the ordinance would protect the community and drinking water by creating a review board for projects like this, and prohibiting developments that don’t meet the board’s approval.

But the company in a statement called the proposed city ordinance “flawed.”

“If passed, we don’t believe the ordinance will survive legal scrutiny,” wrote Katie Martin, communications manager with Plains All American. “This ordinance is an example of ill-conceived local government overreach that is preempted by state and federal law. While it was drafted to try to stop one project, it will impact many businesses in the Memphis area. We remain committed to sharing facts and working collaboratively with our stakeholders as we consider all options to move the project forward.”

Plains is part of a joint venture with Valero Energy to build the Byhalia Connection, which would link the Valero refinery in Memphis with another larger pipeline in north Mississippi.

In a letter to Memphis City Council members, the company wrote:

Plains All American, as operator of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline joint venture, is committed to the health and safety of the communities in which we operate. We have invested significant time to understand the specific conditions along our proposed pipeline route so we could design, build, and operate safely here. This included careful consideration of the Memphis Sands Aquifer and any potential impact on local Memphians.   Furthermore, we believe in stakeholder engagement, reaching out to or engaging with each of you in our time developing this project.  We consider these conversations and interactions to be a critical part of stakeholder engagement.  We very much appreciate your willingness to talk with us and receive our feedback and work to resolve any differences.   

It’s in this light that we would like to propose a “mutual pause” Byhalia Connection is willing to suspend development activities related to the pursuit of the currently proposed pipeline route and evaluate other options for the pipeline in an effort to address City Council and community concerns, if the City is willing to suspend consideration, adoption, or final reading of the existing or any new ordinance that could affect the pipeline or refinery. 

We believe this eliminates the need and significant expense of litigation, while not preventing the City from pursuing an ordinance if needed later. Furthermore, this gives Plains and our JV partner time to assess other options (that may be preferable to your constituents) with our customers.

Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink with the City of Memphis released the following statement on Wednesday:

 “The Byhalia Pipeline requires federal, state and local permits, as well as other permissions. The permits issued by the federal and state government are currently under appeal and there is pending litigation.  Also pending are proposed amendments to the Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code and the Memphis Code of Ordinances.   The City received seven (7) street cutting permit applications for the pipeline. The permits are under review, and the City will not make a final decision on the applications until after the appeals of the federal and state permits and other legal matters have been resolved.”

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