What is the Sabal Trail Pipeline?
The Sabal Trail Pipeline is a proposed venture that is part of the Southeast Market Pipelines project. It would be a pipeline spanning 515 miles with its route crossing through Alabama and Georgia to enter Florida for the stated purpose of providing needed resources to Florida Power and Light (FPL) (a derivative of NextEra Energy), as well as Duke Energy of Florida. Spectra Energy United States is responsible for the construction and maintenance of the pipeline itself. Spectra intends to begin construction in August 2016 and have the pipeline fully operational by May 2017.
The Sabal Trail Transmission website states that the pipeline would be able to transport over one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Why should I care?
Substantial controversy surrounds the proposal of the construction, primarily from the residents whose homes fall under the route that the pipeline will travel, environmental protection organizations, and the residents of the homes that would be near the compressor stations.
Many of the concerns are oriented around the fact that the route of the pipeline is slated to travel through Karst geology in the Florida Aquifer, which is a Florida-native rock structure prone to sinkholes.
Spectra Energy has a history of environmental damage due to their construction and ill-maintenance of pipelines and related sites, with 123 incidents occurring between 2010 and 2013. Further, Spectra plans to export a percentage of the gas obtained through the pipeline in the form of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). This presents issues in that the conversion of natural gas to LNG presents additional risk of environmental degradation and that export of LNG does not fall under the expressed purpose of “convenience and public necessity” per the certification granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
One assertion by Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC on the behalf of natural gas is that it is “clean burning” and is therefore less destructive to the environment than coal or oil. This ignores the fact that extraction of natural gas takes place in the form of fracking, which is destructive to water sources, air quality, and landscapes.
What are the next steps?
As of July 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued its final environmental impact statement (FEIS), and has found that the benefit to the customers of the pipeline (FPL, DEF), and their customers (citizens of the state of Florida) outweighs the risk of environmental degradation, and has therefore issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity. It issued its Notice to Proceed to Spectra in early August, even though third parties, such as Gulf Restoration Network, Congressman Ted Yoho, Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners (SCBOCC), or Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) called for a supplementary environmental impact statement (SEIS) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
WWALS Watershed Coalition board member Chris Mericle and professional geologist Dennis Price were at the forefront of the discovery of discrepancies between the EIS of ST LLC, the FEIS of FERC, and the independent analysis of the same geographic areas by Dennis Price. Using LiDAR technology to capture images with GPS locations of sinkholes depicted, Dennis Price found a large number of sinkholes that were not reported in Sabal Trail’s EIS, and consequently were not factored into FERC’s FEIS.
As of August, 2016, and the issuance of the Notice to Proceed, Gulf Restoration Network, Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its issuance of three Clean Water Act permits that would allow construction of the 515-mile Florida Southeast Market Pipelines Project, including the Sabal Trail pipeline. Read Sierra Club Florida's Press Release here. In the meantime, ReThink Energy Florida will keep the grassroots informed on actions they can participate in.