Oil pipeline pushing through Jackson Co wetlands

BILOXI, Miss. — Heavy machinery is cutting wide ditches through 41 miles of wetlands in Jackson County.

Plains Southcap LLC of Mobile, Ala., is getting its 2-foot-wide pipeline for crude oil into the ground rapidly, The Sun Herald reported.

The pipeline’s path runs from 10 miles northwest of Mobile through eastern Jackson County to the Chevron Pascagoula refinery on the Mississippi Sound.

Plains says it expects the pipeline to be complete by the end of the year. It told the newspaper the pipeline is designed for light and medium crude oil.

The pipeline company met requirements for a nationwide permit that lets it expedite permitting and bypass public notifications about wetlands. The permit requires Plains to restore the wetlands it digs through.

Alan Sudduth, Chevron’s Mississippi spokesman, said the pipeline will supply the refinery’s new $1.4 billion plant to make base oil for lubricants.

The refinery now gets crude shipped through the Port of Pascagoula and a Louisiana pipeline.

Environmentalists worry that the pipeline might carry oil from Canadian sands. Sudduth said that oil can’t be refined into lubricants. When the base-oil project becomes operational, he said, the refinery will produce more than 1 million more gallons of oil a year, making it the world’s leading producer.

Environmental groups are asking if the pipeline is necessary and whether it’s adding insult to an area trying to recover from the BP oil spill.

Steve Shepard, Sierra Club’s Mississippi Coast representative, said he was particularly concerned about the threat a pipeline would create for Bangs Lake, a water system near the refinery.

Toshja Brown, assistant director of Steps Coalition — a Biloxi environmental justice group — said the pipeline “totally snuck under the radar” while her group was working on matters raised by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010 and the state Port of Gulfport. “It was a gut punch,” she said.

She learned about it when the state Department of Marine Resources sent notices to 100 Mississippi property owners who would be affected. The department was involved because the route twice crosses the Escatawpa River, which is subject to the tide.