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Posted on: September 23, 2021

Mayor Lee Harris' Update on Shelby County's Oil Pipeline Regulations

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Last week, the Shelby County Commission gave its final approval for an ordinance that seeks to limit where companies can construct oil pipelines. The County Commission’s bipartisan 10-0 vote is intended to protect Shelby County neighborhoods and the Memphis Sand Aquifer, our invaluable water resource, from encroachment by oil pipeline developers.

This new amendment to the Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code puts a distance of 1,500 feet between newly constructed oil pipelines and our community’s safe havens, our homes, our churches, our parks, and our schools.

In December of 2019, Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corp. announced plans to build the Byhalia Connecttion Pipeline, taking a path that traveled through Southwest Memphis into neighborhoods that include Boxtown and Westwood.

Activists raised the alarm about the threat the pipeline posed to their neighborhoods and the family homes many of them have owned for generations. We gladly joined that fight. The proposed pipeline presented an unnecessary risk to these predominately African American neighborhoods, which have historically born the brunt of environmental degradation. After some research, we found that the UDC made no mention at all about oil pipelines. We worked closely with the Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning and Development to correct that oversight.

Justin, Alex and Jerri canvas for the pipeline ordinance amendment

Mayor's office team members Alex Hensley and Jerri Green join activist Justin Pearson, co-founder of MCAP (Memphis Community Against the Pipeline) to canvas for the oil pipeline amendment.

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration show that there have been 5,740 significant pipeline incidents in the U.S. over the past 20 years. Those incidents have caused fires, explosions, contaminated environments, and resulted in injuries or death. This year alone, there have been 172 significant incidents, costing $113 million. Nonprofit Conversations for Responsible Economic Development reports that property values directly or even indirectly impacted by an oil spill decrease by as much as 40 percent.

With our support, community members stopped the Byhalia Pipeline. But we did not stop our work. With this ordinance we seek to ensure that the next oil pipeline development plan stays out of our backyards. On Tuesday, the Memphis City Council decided to table its final vote on this ordinance. The City Council did approve a plan that creates wellhead protection zones around drinking water wells operated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water. Initial assessments show that this new wellhead protection overlay will still leave roughly 75% of Memphis unprotected. We're in support of any protections of our aquifer. But we also urge the City Council to go further with the approval of the UDC ordinance, which places a barrier between new oil pipelines and the schools, parks, places of worship, family recreation centers, and homes throughout Memphis and Shelby County.

I hope that invested community members will continue to reach out to their elected officials to see that this legislation gets final approval. All our communities must be protected and in the coming weeks, the Memphis City Council has the opportunity to do just that.

Thank you to Commission Chairman Willie Brooks, Commissioner Tami Sawyer, Commissioner Reginald Milton, Commissioner Mickell Lowery, Commissioner Michael Whaley, Commissioner Brandon Morrison, Commissioner Eddie Jones, Commissioner Van Turner, Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., and Commissioner Mark Billingsley for your support on this critical legislation that protects our environment, our aquifer, and our historic neighborhoods.


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