“The Scales Are Tipped”: Emails Show Louisiana’s Close Relationship With Oil Industry, Monitoring of Pipeline Opponents

The state’s relationship with Energy Transfer Partners stands in stark contrast to its lack of engagement with activists opposing the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

Scott Eustis, a community science director for the Gulf Restoration Network, speaks before a hearing in federal court in New Orleans, LA., Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction of a pipeline through a river swamp in South Louisiana. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is designed to be the final segment of a pipeline network connecting the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota with Louisiana refineries and export terminals. (AP Photo/Michael Kunzelman)
Scott Eustis, a community science director for the Gulf Restoration Network, speaks before a hearing in federal court in New Orleans, LA., Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Photo: Michael Kunzelman/AP

Shortly after the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline received its final major permit to begin construction in Louisiana, the head of the state’s Homeland Security office forwarded seemingly benign details on the activities of an environmentalist group opposing the pipeline to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the State Police, and the National Guard. The FBI also received a copy.

The January 4 email, authored by an intelligence officer with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, pulled information from the social media page and email list of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. It highlighted a local pastor’s planned participation in an anti-pipeline Facebook livestream and described the fundraising efforts of Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who coordinated military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and now runs the environmental justice group GreenARMY.

A similar email that GOHSEP Director James Waskom forwarded to Department of Environmental Quality head Chuck Carr Brown on December 20 pulled quotes from an article published by the news site Inside Sources describing the visitor vetting process used by the anti-pipeline L’eau Est La Vie Camp.

The emails were among a larger set turned over by the state’s environmental protection department in response to a public records request filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Taken together, they suggest that while Louisiana saw the oil company behind Bayou Bridge as a partner, officials increasingly viewed pipeline opponents as a security threat. Additional emails also indicate a close working relationship between the oil company, Energy Transfer Partners, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the permit that allowed construction to go forward.

Buren “Ric” Moore, the intelligence officer who authored the emails forwarded by Waskom, included a quote after his signature, stating, “In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating it is to wait too long. There is no guarantee of success, but there has to be a guarantee of effort. Let’s make it hard to hurt us. If you see something suspicious, report it.”

“I was strictly shocked to think that that would be of intelligence interest to the governor’s staff that I supported the movement,” said Honoré, who added that neither sufficient regulations nor effective regulators exist to safely construct pipelines through Louisiana’s wetlands.

“I’d be more interested in them tracking the people who are doing the polluting. They seem to be closer to terrorists than I am,” Honoré said. “Looks like you’re watching the wrong people, all based on the scenario of what happened in Standing Rock.”

Anne Rolfes, head of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, called the emails from the state Homeland Security office “a clear attempt to intimidate opponents and to harass us and to chill other people for being involved.” She said some of the content came from a newsletter sent to members and other information came from the group’s social media page.

Greg Langley, a public affairs officer at the Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency had held a hearing on the night of January 4, and the communications from the Homeland Security office would have been used “just to see if we might need extra security. We have an obligation to keep everybody safe and keep state property safe.” Langley added, “We’re happy for people to come, happy for people to express their opinion, to protest if they want.”

A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Mike Steele, downplayed the emails’ significance. He explained that Moore is GOHSEP’s single liaison at the state fusion center, where police, the FBI, and other agencies exchange information. “His job is to keep everyone aware,” Steele said, noting that, although most of the fusion center personnel work for law enforcement, GOHSEP does not have any law enforcement or investigative authority, and would share the same type of information about Mardi Gras or sporting events. “This was for situational awareness. It doesn’t necessarily mean any actions will be taken,” he said.

Steele added that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has been on GOHSEP’s radar for a while. “They’ve had events at the gates of plants and industrial sites in the past, and I know we’ve kind of tracked some of that, but again, it was more we may get called in to provide resources to help out,” he said.

Asked about the quote at the end of Moore’s email, Steele said, “He is an ex-military, so that’s something that was a tagline for his emails.” He added that “it in no way meant that there was anything terrorist-related with what’s going on with the pipeline fight. We probably need to talk to him about that because I can see how that would be misunderstood.”

“In an effort to protect the infrastructure of Louisiana, the FBI New Orleans Field Office routinely coordinates with federal, state, and local agencies across the state on a variety of issues, to include oil and gas matters,” the FBI special agent in charge, Eric J. Rommal, said in a statement.

Spokespeople for the Louisiana State Police and National Guard did not respond to requests for comment.

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2017, aerial file photo shows the site where the final phase of the Dakota Access pipeline will take place with boring equipment routing the pipeline underground and across Lake Oahe to connect with the existing pipeline in Emmons County near Cannon Ball, N.D. Environmental activists who tried to disrupt some oil pipeline operations in four states to protest the pipeline say they aren't responsible for any recent attacks on that pipeline. Dakota Access developer Energy Transfer Partners said in court documents Monday, March 20, 2017, that there have been "coordinated physical attacks" along the $3.8 billion pipeline that will carry oil from North Dakota to Illinois. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

Boring equipment at a Dakota Access pipeline site routed the pipeline underground and across Lake Oahe near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 13, 2017.

Photo: Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune/AP
The Bayou Bridge opposition movement is tiny in comparison to the thousands of people who showed up at Standing Rock in the fall of 2016 to physically block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, but the two pipelines are related. Both are owned by Energy Transfer Partners, and they represent the northern and southern sections of a larger pipeline system carrying oil from the Bakken shale fracking region of North Dakota to the Gulf Coast. Connecting the two pipelines is the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, which runs from DAPL’s endpoint in Illinois to Texas and was recently retrofitted to carry oil instead of gas. The Bayou Bridge pipeline would run 163 miles from ETCO’s endpoint to St. James, Louisiana.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit on December 14 allowing Energy Transfer Partners to begin building the Bayou Bridge pipeline, and by January 24, construction had commenced. On Monday, the anti-Bayou Bridge movement saw its first arrests when around 50 pipeline opponents showed up to block construction, according to Rolfes. Three people were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and entering and remaining after being forbidden and were released later that day on bail.

Meanwhile, construction on another section of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which runs through a sensitive wetland at the center of the state’s crawfishing industry, the Atchafalaya Basin, was halted by a judge last week while litigation is ongoing. At the heart of the issue is the review process conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers. Lawyers for environmental organizations and crawfishing industry groups have sued the Corps, arguing it should have investigated more thoroughly the potential harms the pipeline could cause and possible risk reduction techniques.

The emails obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Bucket Brigade show that a contractor working for Energy Transfer Partners drafted language for a public notice that was presented as if written by the Army Corps and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which is also involved in permitting.

In August 2016, Perennial Environmental Services, the company that prepared Energy Transfer Partners’ water quality certification application, sent the Army Corps language for a public notice announcing a comment period for the application.

“Here is the latest party invitation!!!!” Army Corps Project Manager James Little joked as he forwarded the draft to Elizabeth Hill at the Department of Environmental Quality. On October 3, 2016, a notice was published using the ETP contractor’s language nearly verbatim.

The day after the public notice was filed, in another email, Hill made light of the concerns of environmental activists. “What about the comment extension request from gulf Restoration? I’m sure this like every other project is going to cause global warming and rising sea levels. Since we already know that is an extension necessary?” she wrote to Little.

Langley, the environmental department public affairs officer, said the Army Corps would know better than his agency who had drafted the October 3 notice. “I think that we support everybody that has their say in this, and we want to be fair,” he said. The Army Corps said it could not respond to The Intercept’s questions because of ongoing litigation. Neither Perennial Environmental Services nor ETP responded to requests for comment.

Perennial specializes in preparing the documents that allow companies to comply with environmental protection laws. For the Bayou Bridge project, the company not only helped prepare ETP’s application for water quality certification but also prepared portions of the Army Corps environmental assessment at the heart of the litigation. The news blog DeSmog has pointed out that the company also helped write the environmental assessment for the Dakota Access pipeline and provided permitting services for the development of the ETCO pipeline.

Pamela Spees, the attorney who filed the public records request for the Center for Constitutional Rights, underlined that the state of Louisiana’s close relationship with the oil and gas industry stands in stark contrast to its lack of engagement with pipeline opponents. “How the scales are tipped, it’s astonishing to see,” she said. Spees has also represented activists fighting to prevent the private security firm TigerSwan from obtaining a permit to work in Louisiana. TigerSwan was hired by ETP in North Dakota to coordinate the security response to the Dakota Access opposition. The security firm, run by former special operations military members, used infiltrators, aerial surveillance, and propaganda to attempt to suppress the protest movement. In Louisiana, TigerSwan is appealing a state regulatory board decision that denied the company a permit to operate.

Honoré said TigerSwan asked him last year to come on as an adviser for the company as it attempted to gain a permit in Louisiana. “I told them I don’t want anything to do with you,” he said.

Whether or not TigerSwan is allowed to work in the state, the emails indicate that Louisiana will be watching and ready to ramp up its own efforts to suppress the anti-pipeline movement if the protests grow. “It’s disturbing and troubling that you have the security apparatus of the state putting resources into monitoring pipeline opponents who are pretty small organizations,” said Spees. “The juxtaposition there is very concerning.”

Top photo: Scott Eustis, a community science director for the Gulf Restoration Network, speaks before a hearing in federal court in New Orleans, La., Feb. 8, 2018.

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