Sabal Trail Transmission LLC representatives held an open house event on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in Jasper, which drew a large crowd of local, and not so local, residents who wanted to learn more about the project, as well as others who came to voice their objections to the project in general. Protesters from SpectraBusters, a citizen-organized, citizen-run group that spans multiple counties and states, were out on US 129 with posters alerting motorists to say no to the pipeline.
Sabal Trail Pipeline project
It all began in December 2012, when Florida Power and Light issued a solicitation for a new project, which has come to be known as the Sabal Trail Pipeline project, a natural gas pipeline that would run from a natural gas hub in Choctaw County, Alabama, down through Georgia and into Florida, ending in Kissimmee, south of Orlando.
Spectra Energy Corporation submitted a bid and joined forces with NextEra Energy, Inc. in a joint venture to build the Sabal Trail pipeline. They were awarded the project in July 2013.
Sabal Trail Transmission will invest roughly $3 billion in the construction of the pipeline that will access abundant reserves of various regions of the U.S. It will originate in Southwestern Alabama and transport natural gas to Georgia and Florida, terminating at a new Central Florida Hub south of Orlando, where it will interconnect with two existing natural gas pipelines that serve peninsular Florida. To connect with FPL’s operations, Florida Southeast Connection will invest about $550 million to construct a separate pipeline from Sabal Trail’s Central Florida Hub to FPL’s Martin Clean Energy Center in Indiantown.
The Sabal Trail project will include about 465 miles of interstate natural gas pipeline (55 miles in Alabama, 196 miles in Georgia and 214 miles in Florida). The pipeline will be capable of transporting more than 1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to serve local distribution companies, industrial users and natural gas-fired power generators in the Southeast.
Open house in Jasper
Since the project was announced, opponents have spoken out against the project and they are gaining in strength across Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Many of them were at the open house event at Florida Gateway Golf and Country Club, just north of the Suwannee-Hamilton county line on US 129.
There was no formal presentation by a speaker, just different tables set up with representatives standing by to explain all facets of the project, including representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), who has the final say as to whether or not the Sabal Trail pipeline will become a reality.
Videos and maps about the project were available to view, along with lots of handouts, including goodies and trinkets to take home, all emblazoned with the Sabal Trail logo. There was also information on rights-of-way and the environmental review process.
Sabal Trail Outreach spokesperson Andrea Grover said, “We’ve had about 50 of these meetings since we started the project. We’re here to answer questions.”
Grover explained that FPL had modernization plans in mind to have cleaner burning, electric generating facilities, and decided they needed natural gas, thus, the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline project. Additionally, Grover said, Sabal Trail has been in conversations with Duke Energy, who has plans for a natural gas and generating facility in Citrus County and could benefit from the proposed pipeline. From that point forward, FPL/NextEra will be self-building a pipeline that goes down to their facility at the Martin County Clean Energy Center, just north of Indiantown, Grover added.
The pipeline route, she said, will attempt to parallel existing utilities routes, such as Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Southern Natural Gas and Dixie pipelines, and roadways wherever they can, so that they don’t create new corridors.
“About 70 percent, give or take, of the green line (on a map that was presented), parallels those types of things,” said Grover. “We have contacted landowners, public officials, and the different environmental agencies all up and down this route since about June 2013,” she added
There are six field offices with the closest ones being in Lake City and Valdosta, Ga. that have personnel who work with landowners on a one-on-one basis and request survey permissions on their properties, Grover said.
The physical surveys and environmental studies take into consideration a multitude of things, including threatened or endangered species, wetlands, karst terrain, underground geology, and historic preservation lands, she explained.
“In doing all of that, we make reroutes and tweaks, and we look at big changes and little changes,” said Grover.
One of the bigger changes concerns the route across the Withlacoochee River in Jennings, which they are currently working on. This change was prompted by efforts from local residents in that area, who fiercely objected to the pipeline crossing over an environmentally sensitive area full of karst terrain and sinkholes. Chris Mericle, who led that opposition, popped in at the open house and spoke to many of the Sabal Trail representatives to check on the progress of the alternative route.
“I think we’re well into the survey of the alternative route,” Grover told him.
Sabal Trail environmental representative Gus McLachlan told Mericle that they were getting geared up to do some geotechnical work on the alternative route.
“It’s all coming together,” McLachlan said. “It just takes some time.”
Grover said they are still in the pre-filing process with FERC, as they compile data for the project, and they hope to file an application with them by the end of the year. They had hoped to file at the end of October, however, because of the potential reroutes they had to extend that timeline. After the filing, it will take FERC about a year to make a decision, Grover added.
“Should they issue a certificate, we would start construction probably around the summer of 2016, and be in service delivering gas to those points by May, 2017,” said Grover. “So, it’s a long ways off.”
According to their website, SpectraBusters.org states they are opposed to the Sabal Trail pipeline because it serves no benefit to citizens of Alabama or Georgia, while tearing a 100 foot wide right of way through all three states, including Florida. They claim there is no excuse for another natural gas pipeline when solar power is cheaper and brings jobs and energy.
Their major concerns are the damage done by fracking to get the gas in the first place, the safety record of Spectra Energy, and the potential damage to the Suwannee Valley region.
Patricia Tayman owns 10 acres in Suwannee County and she was present at the open house, along with other SpectraBusters supporters. Tayman said she is worried about her water wells if there was ever a natural gas pipeline incident or explosion.
Tayman asked Grover if the majority of the natural gas was going to be exported out of the country. In fact, she asked the question three separate times, until she got a definitive answer.
Grover stated, “These contracts are for domestic use at their electric generation facilities. At this point in time, our customer’s plans (Duke and FPL) are for it to stay in the state.”
John Quarterman from the WWALS Watershed Coalition and a SpectraBusters supporter begs to differ about the exportation of the natural gas. He explained that Sabal Trail doesn’t have to file for export. It’s the end users who do so.
“Three organizations have already authorized Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export operations right where this pipeline goes,” said Quarterman. “Three… authorized by the Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy. There’s a fourth one (Strom, Inc.) that’s applying for an LNG export operation next to Duke’s plant in Crystal River.”
Tampa Electric Company (TECO) wants to build a pipeline over to Jacksonville, which is ramping up for LNG export, Quarterman said. He also quoted from one of FERC’s commissioners, Tony Clark, who, in his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated, “The reason for new pipelines is because of the glut of gas due to fracking.”
Quarterman said they need a market for the natural gas because the domestic market isn’t enough.
“They want to export it,” said Quarterman. “Places like India, China and Japan will pay five times as much. Then, guess what happens to domestic natural gas prices. It goes up.”
Tayman rhetorically asked Grover if she was aware of all the money spent by Florida Governor Rick Scott and all the measures he and other elected officials have taken in order to preserve the rivers, springs and water supply, as well as protect the natural environment in North Florida and throughout the entire state.
“Are you aware of the land mass here that is all limestone and that we’ve had numerous sinkholes?” Tayman continued. “We almost lost the courthouse in Suwannee to a sinkhole. You don’t want to mess with land that deteriorates very rapidly, and that is why we’re all like ‘what are people thinking here?’”
Grover offered to introduce Tayman to one of the geophysical engineers, but Tayman said she had already done her research.
“The land is much better over toward Jacksonville,” Tayman went on. “This particular corridor is extremely, extremely vulnerable to just disintegrating. I just find it very hard to believe that you would jeopardize the water supply. I’m having a hard time distinguishing between incompetence and just plain greed. It’s mindboggling to me that this would even be considered, especially this particular part of the state.”
Tayman said the pipeline is not a done deal.
“There’s been thousands of people that you’ve shook up by all these bogus different routes,” Tayman told Grover. “You’ve got so many people from Georgia to Alabama and in Florida that are just in a tailspin and concerned, and that fright turns into anger.”
Tayman continued, “I’m tired of hearing that this thing is safe.”
Tayman said when a natural gas disaster happens it will be up to the area residents to clean up the mess.
“I don’t think the majority of these people are willing to jeopardize their drinking water,” Tayman said. “This is the epitome of ignorance and greed.”
Tayman said in her research she found that Sabal Trail does not have insurance to clean up a spill.
“We do not have a facility to fight something like this,” Tayman said. “Our little fire department? If something was to go bad? Please… They think they can just push us around. They’re not. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll tell you what, with the little bit I have left, I’ll get a lawyer. I think if I got enough people to help with that, we could have a little bit of a battle with them. I still believe in America. You can’t believe how deep this goes with organizations with their hands in this that are getting their pockets filled. It is mindboggling. This is the biggest joke I have ever seen in my life with the blatant lying about whether it’s going to be exported.”
“Every one of the southern proposed routes crosses the Suwannee River,” Quarterman added.” There’s only one way to make it not cross the Suwannee River. Have no pipeline!”
When asked if he thought the pipeline was necessary, Quarterman said if you look at FPL’s filings with Florida Public Service Commission, they project only 13 percent increased demand in electricity over the next decade.
“How does that justify a third pipeline?” he asked. “The EPA even questioned them about that. The electricity demand nationwide is still going down.”
Patricia Petrizzo, who lives in the Tampa area and has another home in North Florida, was also at the open house.
“I came to get information to find out where it was going because I couldn’t get any down in Tampa,” said Petrizzo. “It’s so vague.”
“If you’re an FPL customer, it’s your rates that are going to be paying for this pipeline, to the tune of $3 billion,” Quarterman said. “Plus another half a billion for that connector line that FPL is putting in from Orlando to Martin County.”