Water and property rights more important than methane pipeline profits

This is a long version of the op-ed sent to many newspapers in WWALS’ watersheds; there is also a short version. -jsq

Protesters drove as far as nine hours to Leesburg, GA July 10th, where Spectra Energy lost its eminent domain demand for its Sabal Trail 36-inch, hundred-foot right-of-way natural gas pipeline, and local landowners countersued. Spectra hobbled back to Houston, Texas bound by strict conditions for surveying that one Mitchell County property, and bound to haunt south Georgia again for a trespass jury trial.

The ensuing flurry of newspaper op-eds by Spectra’s Andrea Grover plus a page-long Sabal Trail interview in the Valdosta Daily Times (VDT), didn’t mention numerous Sabal Trail downsides. Sabal Trail’s air quality permit application with Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division met immediate objections by Greenlaw and Ted Turner’s Nonami Plantation.

Spectra wants 100,000 gallons of water from his pond for pressure tests, a Colquitt County landowner told the pipeline-permitting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last March in Moultrie. Florida’s Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) told FERC in April that massive water extraction for pipeline testing could cause sinkholes; asked where that testing water would go after dirtied by use; and pointed out permits would be needed. Sabal Trail applied July 21st for an Environmental Resource Permit exemption with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL-DEP) for our Withlacoochee River and for the Santa Fe River. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked FERC in April how that hydrostatic testing would conform with state water quality standards and how it would affect downstream water users.

Sabal Trail also asked FL DEP July 21st for an injection well permit for Suwannee County, Florida. What if testing water or drilling wastewater spills, like it did in North Dakota, where a pipeline locals were told contained only water actually spilled a million gallons of oily-smelling brine? Unlike North Dakota, our fragile karst limestone is highly susceptible to sinkholes that affect property and can drain into ur drinking water source, the Floridan Aquifer.

Spectra doesn’t have adequate insurance if that fracked methane pipeline leaks or explodes, as Our Santa Fe River, representing the other big tributary of the Suwannee, has pointed out, and as Spectra’s own SEC Form 10-K says. Ms. Grover still seems unfamiliar with Spectra Energy’s four-decade record of corrosion, leaks, and explosions, including a record $15 million EPA fine for leaking PCBs at 89 sites along a pipeline, and an even bigger fine from Pennsylvania for the same incident. That was the same Texas Eastern Pipeline that would carry fracked methane from the Marcellus Shale through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. How do we know PCBs won’t come with the methane?

65 acres of trees were incinerated and soil baked into glass in Alabama in December 2011 on Williams Transco’s 36-inch pipeline, the source of Sabal Trail’s fracked methane. Local landowners and local and state governments get left to pick up the bodies, repair the buildings, and clean up the mess.

FERC has acknowledged that the pipeline could later be sold and reused for shipping other substances. Do we want tar sands oil leaking into our rivers or aquifer? What if this pipeline gets repurposed to send our water to Florida’s coastal cities, whose local water supplies are already being affected by rising sea levels?

Ms. Grover bragged about 50 public meetings, but didn’t mention that the public was overwhelmingly opposed to the pipeline, including in WWALS’ watersheds at Moultrie, Valdosta, Clyattville, and Madison. We don’t want leaks or explosions in our watersheds or our aquifer, nor the hundred-foot wide gash for Sabal Trail’s yard-wide fracked methane pipeline through our fields, forests, and wetlands, and under our Withlacoochee River twice. As Valdosta City Council Tim Carroll told FERC back in March, one-time payments to landowners in no way compensate for this pipeline with no local benefits: “The health, safety and welfare of our local citizens clearly outweighs those of a private company in this matter.”

If even Florida wouldn’t benefit, there’s no justification for eminent domain. Duke Energy says it doesn’t need Sabal Trail for its proposed Citrus County, FL power plant. The VDT noted the pipeline would provide more power than all of Florida currently uses. Transco, Sabal Trail, and FPL’s Florida Southeast Connection (FSC) lead right to at least three already-authorized liquid natural gas (LNG) export operations in Florida. Florida Governor Rick Scott owned or owns stock in both the existing Florida methane pipelines (Gulfstream and Florida Gas Transmission), and in both Williams of the Transco pipeline and Spectra of Sabal Trail. Who profits by this pipeline boondoggle?

Solar and wind don’t require water for hydrostatic testing, don’t leak or explode, and don’t use water for cooling, unlike natural gas, coal, oil and, nuclear plants. According to Sabal Trail’s own figures, half the acreage of that pipeline could produce just as much solar power, with solar panels on rooftops and where landowners actually want them, such as the 2 MW by Lakeland Solar Energy on Burnt Church Road in Lanier County, connected to Georgia Power in January 2014. And the 20 MW solar farm near Hazelhurst, Jeff Davis County, GA, announced by Green Power EMC this June.

Beyond the minimum depth requests of the Dougherty, Colquitt, and Brooks County Commissions, the Lowndes County Commission’s insistenc that the pipeline company follow fourteen points of local regulations, local governments can do much more. State Supreme Courts in Pennsylvania and New York have ruled that local zoning ordinances can ban fracking and pipelines. why should Georgia be different? South Buffalo, Pennsylvania rejected a compressor station in February 2014. Princeton, New Jersey on June 16th, asked FERC to reject a pipeline, and two Congress members and two Senators took up the call. How about a Community Bill of Rights against pipelines?

Like Georgians at Fort Morris in 1778, landowners don’t have to surrender at the first pipeline company lowball offer: Come and Take It! Ms. Grover admitted in the VDT that FERC requires survey data for all affected properties, so any holdouts do indeed crimp that pipeline.

Local people and governments are not alone. The Alabama, Georgia, and Florida Sierra Club chapters, oppose this pipeline, as do Greenlaw, Flint Riverkeeper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Our Santa Fe River, and many others.

July 14th in DC, protesters from many eastern states marched against Spectra’s proposed Constitution Pipeline and LNG exports through Cove Point, Maryland, including the first-ever sit-down protest in front of FERC, where dozens people were arrested, one dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Celebrities like Bill Cosby are opposing pipelines. The Fraser Valley Association of Pipeline Landowners in Chilliwack, British Columbia is countersuing Spectra’s demands for new pipes with no payment on an existing right of way.

From BC that fracked methane would go through Williams Company’s Washington Expansion Project (WEP) to two LNG export terminals in Oregon, all opposed by Columbia Riverkeeper and Rogue Riverkeeper.

After widespread opposition to the Bluegrass Pipeline in Kentucky, Williams cancelled it in April, citing: “an insufficient level of firm customer commitment”. Let’s repeat that history here in the southeast, and turn to conservation, efficiency, and solar power: cheaper, faster, on-budget, with local jobs and lower electric bills.

WWALS wants to get people out onto our rivers to see their pines and oaks and turtles and herons and tea-colored waters, for example through the Alapaha Water Trail.

So WWALS filed as an intervenor with FERC in November 2013 and will file again formally if Sabal Trail files for a permit as it plans for October.

Meanwhile, it will be very different from Sabal Trail’s recent one-sided puff pieces when Spectra has to haunt south Georgia again for a trespass jury trial.

—John S. Quarterman, President, WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., www.wwals.net


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