A trial begins today in a case that’s delayed construction on a portion of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline after owners of land in St. Martinville says crews were illegally building, clearing trees and digging up land on their 32-acre property for nearly 60 days.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade Director Anne Rolfes says Bayou Bridge parent company Energy Transfer Partners never had legal permission to enter the property.

“Normally what they would do is get a voluntary agreement, or they would forcibly take it. In this case, they did neither.”

Several pipeline protesters who had been invited to the property by its three owners were arrested and charged after allegedly interfering with construction efforts on the disputed land.

Rolfes, who opposes the pipeline for legal and environmental reasons, says the case could have substantial ramifications for oil companies on just how much leeway they actually have to seize private property. She says a ruling in their favor would set some of the first limits.

“There is no government entity on any level that gives the oil industry the thumbs up to say, ok, your project is a good project, and you can take the land. They can just start to take it.”

Construction on that portion of the pipeline has been delayed since ETP agreed to cease construction on the property pending a hearing back in September.

Rolfes says the fact that this case is in court is indicative of the vague, and lightly defined power oil companies have to seize private property in Louisiana.

“This is a test of that problem in our state law where there is a gap, where the oil industry can begin to seize land, in this case, before they even have all of the permits.”

ETP has not commented on the lawsuit. They are 90% complete on the crude oil pipeline from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.