News | January 14, 2021

Groups urge Memphis water utility to protect wellfield and aquifer from oil pipeline threat

SELC and a coalition of citizen and conservation groups sent a letter to Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) requesting that the utility take active steps to protect a wellfield that surrounding communities, comprised of primarily Black residents, rely on for their drinking water from threats posed by the path of a planned oil pipeline.

The groups want the utility to enforce existing, protective boundaries established to keep pollution out of the drinking water source for the surrounding communities and oppose a plan by Valero Energy and Plains All American Pipeline to construct a high-pressure oil pipeline over the Memphis Sand aquifer.

“Building this pipeline in an active seismic zone across the aquifer that Memphis depends on for its water is absolutely irresponsible,” said Amanda Garcia, SELC’s Tennessee Office Director. “MLGW owes it to its customers to take every action possible to safeguard their drinking water.”

The letter, sent by SELC, Protect Our Aquifer, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club and Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, follows a letter the same groups sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting that the agency deny a request for a permit for the pipeline.

The Memphis Sand aquifer supplies Memphis and Shelby County with clean, reliable drinking water — the largest metropolitan area in the United States that relies exclusively on groundwater for its municipal water supply, according to the letter.

The proposed Byhalia Pipeline would cross the Davis Wellfield, which MLGW uses to supply drinking water to several residential areas in southwest Memphis. The high-pressure pipeline would also cross Wellhead Protection Zone 2 and pass near numerous Source Water Protection Areas in Northern Mississippi.

“The risks associated with the proposed pipeline are difficult to overstate,” said the letter. “Specifically, the proposed pipeline, if constructed, would transport oil under pressure within a seismic area known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone. According to the USGS, the New Madrid Seismic Zone is the most seismically active area in the central and eastern United States.”

The letter also notes that the pipeline would place an unjust burden on the Black communities it passes near.

The letter closes by asking MLGW for information about its plans to preserve the integrity of its Wellhead Protection Zone and steps it will take to address threats to the aquifer posed by this oil pipeline.

“We hope that you will consider this letter to be an open invitation to collaborate,” the letter said. “Through this request for information, we are asking for MLGW’s help as we work to understand and mitigate threats to the Memphis Sand Aquifer.”