We Traveled Out To The Middle Of The Bayou, And We Found Anti-Pipeline Protesters Living In Trees

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator
  • The Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a major crude oil pipeline operated by Energy Transfer Partners, is near completion in southern Louisiana. 
  • Protesters from around the country have claimed that the pipeline is a danger to the Atchafalaya Basin, despite approval from environmental regulators. 
  • The Daily Caller News Foundation traveled to the camp and met a man who was living in the swamp trying to stop its completion.

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. — “I am a little wary about telling my story. I don’t trust reporters,” said a man who referred to himself simply as “Babyface” when approached by The Daily Caller News Foundation. He was living in a swamp in southern Louisiana to protest the construction a major crude oil pipeline that is near completion.

Babyface was living deep in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, the biggest swamp in the country, and was the only protester on the ground when TheDCNF found him. Babyface’s traveling campsite could not be found on any map. It took TheDCNF over two hours of traveling on airboat and foot to find it. The living conditions weren’t stellar. The humidity in the swamp was off the charts, numerous alligators could be spotted in the water, and a voice on Babyface’s walkie-talkie warned of water moccasins nearby.

It appeared the camp had been established there for at least a few days — Babyface wouldn’t tell TheDCNF how long he’d been there. Several flags that called for the end of Bayou Bridge were hanging in nearby trees. Tents were packed with clothes and food, water jugs were scattered on the ground. Notably, the campers were using a plastic tea jug to collect their urine. It also appeared the protesters passed the time by reading teenage fan-fiction — several “Twilight” novels were lying around.

“We’re working to stop them from constructing the pipeline,” Babyface explained.

None of it appeared to faze Babyface, a man who was wearing a bright red dress with snake boots. He was there for a cause: to stop the completion of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Numerous protesters just like him have been camping in the Atchafalaya Basin for months in their attempt to prevent work on the pipeline. A predominant strategy of the protesters is to physically stand in the way of construction, forcing employees to stop until law enforcement is able to forcibly move them out of harm’s way.

This was Babyface’s motive when TheDCNF discovered him. He was not excited about seeing media and was very hesitant to speak at all.

“All I can say really is that there is a lifeline and it holds someone’s life in its hands so nobody better cut it,” he said, pointing to two makeshift treehouses above him that he claimed his companions were living in. The purpose of the treehouses, one of them is pictured below, was a tried-and-true method of pipeline protesters: remain in a tree that sits along the construction path in order to prevent pipeline workers from cutting it down, thus slowing its completion.

Protester in treehouse

A protester is living in a treehouse to block the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. (Photo: TheDCNF)

“I’d really rather not walk you around, but this is public land. You can do what you want, but I’ll probably be trailing you,” he said.

His entire cause is against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline project that will serve as an extension to an already built line from Nederland, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Once completed, the 163-mile pipeline operated by Energy Transfer Partners will run from Lake Charles to St. James, Louisiana, carrying up to 480,000 barrels of oil a day.

However, like so many other pipeline projects in the U.S., Bayou Bridge has attracted a significant amount of protests. At main issue is the fact that the pipeline is being built across the Atchafalaya Basin, an enormous swamp in southern Louisiana that environmentalists claim is too sensitive for such energy development.

Despite the pipeline receiving approval from all the necessary government regulators, and local town councils voting in support of it, out-of-state protesters have continued to hinder construction by almost any means possible. EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and other environmental groups have tried to stop the project at the judicial level, initiating lawsuits that aim to stall construction. These moves have, so far, proven unsuccessful.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is now around 85 percent completed, with Energy Transfer Partners telling the TheDCNF construction is expected to be completed by October and commercial operations anticipated to begin as early as the fourth quarter of 2018. As the pipeline gets closer and closer to completion, it seems the protesters’ tactics have become more extreme.

Since construction began in early 2018, activists have been arrested for a litany of illegal actions: standing in the way of construction, locking themselves onto equipment or cement-filled barrels, outright destruction of property, and numerous other tactics. Environmental organizations involved in these activities include the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 350 New Orleans and the L’eau Est La Vie Camp. (RELATED: Environmental Extremists Working To Stop Louisiana Pipeline)

Many of these protesters have been scattered and concise, however, a central hub for these anti-pipeline activists has been the traveling camps within the Atchafalaya Basin. Here, in the sweltering heat with no Wi-Fi and snakes abound, these campers have stuck around for months.

Defend The Swamp Sign

Pictured is a protest camp with a sign that reads, “Defend The Swamp.” (Photo: TheDCNF)

Babyface would not tell TheDCNF what group — if any — he belonged to, and he wouldn’t go into detail on what options his group would take to block the last bit of construction that is left. “Hopefully that day is never going to come,” he said.

“I don’t really want to speak on behalf of any organization. I am just out here as an individual trying to keep this area safe and make sure nobody cuts that line,” Babyface said. He did, however, show interest in talking about the people living in the two treehouses up above, warning that the people inside would be put in danger if construction workers knocked it down.

“There’s a lifeline on the easement and that’s connected to a sit-in tree that is outside of the easement out here on public land. Nobody is breaking the law by being out here or sitting. But the idea is that its unsafe for them to cut any further — not only because its destructive to the environment, but because a human being’s life is in the balance,” he said.

After speaking to Babyface for a quite some time and squeezing as many answers out him as possible, there was one glaring question left for someone who spends every day of their life in a swamp that is miles away from civilization: What did he do for fun?

“It’s fun out here,” he said. “This is what I enjoy doing.”

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