Avoid our area –Florida’s Suwannee River Water Management District to FERC

What they told FERC today was more subtle than just “avoid our area”, but after the Sabal Trail methane pipeline avoid karst limestone, any unconfined areas of our Floridan aquifer, caves, springs, wetlands, drilling under rivers, blasting, or using groundwater for testing pipes or disposing of it afterwards, where can that pipeline go?

The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) covers the Florida parts of WWALS’ watersheds, and our Withlacoochee River is named in the SRWMD comments. Unlike Georgia’s Suwannee-Satilla Water management District, SRWMD has state funding and staff that produced some very interesting comments.

This is the first I’ve heard of this point about source and disposal of testing water:

Once the pipeline is installed, testing the integrity of it will require the use of large volumes of water which require a Water Use Permit under Chapter 40B-2, Florida Administrative Code. Some consideration of where this water will come from (presumably groundwater) and what will be done with it after it has been used will be necessary. Extracting large volumes of groundwater from near the pipeline can potentially be a trigger for sinkhole activity. Furthermore, once the water has been forced through the pipeline it will have to be disposed of. It could contain small amounts of contaminants picked up while in the pipe. Since the vast majority of the pipeline is currently slated to run through karst terrain. where the underlying aquifer is highly vulnerable to contamination, care needs to be taken when disposing of the test water.

According to Spectra Energy’s 2014 SEC Form 10-K:

The Toxic Substances Control Act, which requires that polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated materials be managed in accordance with a comprehensive regulatory regime. Because of the historical use of lubricating oils containing PCBs, the internal surfaces of some of our pipeline systems are contaminated with PCBs, and liquids and other materials removed from these pipelines must be managed in compliance with such regulations.

Maybe this new pipeline won’t have PCBs in any of its new parts, but the gas is supposed to come indirectly through Spectra’s Texas Eastern pipeline, which is the very one for which Spectra was fined $15 million by the EPA for spilling PCBs at 89 sites. Spectra and the EPA knew about those PCBs as early as 1985, which was the same year a Texas Eastern explosion incinerated 700×500 feet, killed 5 people, and burned 3 more, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

So in addition to the historical risk of explosion, pipeline test water could contain PCBs. And could cause sinkholes.

The SRWMD comments mention another possible cause of sinkholes:

Horizontal directional drilling in cavernous karst has potential to trigger sinkhole formation or disruption of natural groundwater flow patterns.

And SRWMD adds this new point:

Blasting is proposed in areas of shallow bedrock to facilitate trench construction. Anecdotal evidence suggests that limestone mine blasting may have caused local sinkhole formation in areas of west-central Florida in the past, but the scale and scope of these effects is not documented.

It might be different if Florida actually needed all that new power. Of course, then the Sunshine State could get that power from the sun, still with no need for the proposed environmentally damaging pipeline.