Water and property rights over methane pipeline profits

This is an op-ed submission sent to many newspapers in WWALS’ watersheds and beyond. There is also a longer version. -jsq

Protesters drove up to nine hours to Leesburg, GA July 10th, where Spectra Energy lost an 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 property, and bound to haunt south Georgia again for a trespass jury trial.

Spectra bragged in op-eds about 50 public meetings, never mentioning overwhelming public opposition in Moultrie, Valdosta, Clyattville, Madison and elsewhere to that gash through our fields, forests, and wetlands, and under our Withlacoochee River twice.

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. Florida’s Suwannee River Water Management District asked FERC in April where the dirty testing water would go, and said permits would be needed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked FERC in April how hydrostatic testing would conform with state water quality standards and how it would affect downstream water users. Sabal Trail applied in July for an Environmental Resource Permit exemption with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for our Withlacoochee River and for Florida’s Santa Fe River, plus a request for an injection well permit for Suwannee County, Florida. Our fragile karst limestone is highly susceptible to sinkholes that affect property and can drain into our drinking water source, the Floridan Aquifer.

Spectra’s own SEC Form 10-K says it doesn’t have adequate insurance for risks and losses, such as its four-decade record of corrosion, leaks, and explosions.

The Williams Transco 36-inch pipeline that would feed Sabal Trail exploded in Alabama in December 2011, incinerating 65 acres of trees. Local landowners and local and state governments are left to clean up the mess.

Beyond local counties’ minimum depth requests, zoning ordinances can ban fracking and pipelines, and local governments could reject a compressor station or the pipeline and enlist state and national legislators, even enact a Community Bill of Rights.

Solar power could produce just as much electricity from half as much acreage, according to Sabal Trail’s own figures. Like Lakeland Solar Energy’s 2 megawatts and Hazelhurst solar farm’s 20 MW. With no eminent domain, no leaks or explosions, no water for hydrostatic testing, and no water for cooling, unlike natural gas, coal, oil, or nuclear plants.

Duke Energy doesn’t need Sabal Trail for its proposed Citrus County, FL power plant. The Valdosta Daily Times (VDT) said the pipeline would provide more power than Florida currently uses. Transco and Sabal Trail lead to three already-authorized liquid natural gas (LNG) export operations in Florida. Florida Governor Rick Scott owned or owns stock in Spectra, Williams, and both existing Florida methane pipelines. Private profit is no justification for eminent domain.

Spectra admitted in the VDT that FERC requires complete survey data. Like Georgians at Fort Morris in 1778, landowners don’t have to surrender to the first lowball offer: Come and Take It!

Among allies from Massachusetts to British Columbia, widespread opposition to the Bluegrass Pipeline in Kentucky led to Williams cancelling it in April. let’s repeat that history here in the southeast, and turn to much safer conservation, efficiency, and solar power, for lower electric bills and local jobs.

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