Solar power versus Sabal Trail –Suwannee Riverkeeper in VDT 2017-01-08

Op-ed, Valdosta Daily Times, today, January 8th 2017:

John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper Sabal Trail and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection assured us there would be no problems drilling a 36-inch natural gas pipeline through the fragile karst limestone under the Suwannee River in Florida, yet already Sabal Trail’s pilot hole under the Withlacoochee River in Georgia caused a frac-out of drilling mud into the river and a sinkhole.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should halt construction and do a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

When I happened to fly over the Withlacoochee River frac-out, I also saw what looked like a sinkhole at the drilling site. The day after Sabal Trail told the permitting agencies there was no sinkhole, it “discovered” a sinkhole at apparently the same spot.

Photo: Withlacoochee River, north of US 84 bridge, by John S. Quarterman for WWALS 22 October 2016

Sabal Trail spokesperson Andrea Grover wrote to WTLV’s Anne Schindler (December 5, 2016):

“The two items you referenced are unrelated. The sinkhole is in an upland and approximately 1,400 feet from the previously reported inadvertent release.”

Ms. Grover’s pipeline relates those two items: it caused them.

Photo: Sabal Trail Withlacoochee HDD site, Lowndes County Georgia, by Dominick Gheesling, Southwings flight for WWALS, 22 October 2016

In Florida, last year the Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) testified under oath in WWALS vs.Sabal Trail & FDEP that:

“Well, the Suwannee River crossing doesn’t, in fact, have any impacts to an [O]utstanding Florida Water because the directional drill commences in uplands and terminates in uplands. So there are no surface water impacts at that crossing that would affect the Outstanding Florida [W]ater.”

Sabal Trail has already caused numerous sinkholes in Florida, including two in public roads, exactly as multiple Florida landowners and WWALS expert witness Dennis Price P.G. had warned FDEP.

Ms. Grover continued to WTLV:

“This is not a sign of weakness in the area …. It is simply indicative of the Karst geology that exists throughout this regional area.”

That is why Spectra Energy should not build Sabal Trail through the karst containing our primary drinking water source, the Floridan Aquifer, nor under the Withlacoochee or Suwannee Rivers.

Sabal Trail through Suwannee River State Park
Photo: John S. Quarterman, Southwings flight for WWALS, above Suwannee River Sabal Trail HDD sites, 23 Nov 2016

A Spectra Energy executive from Houston, Texas, testified that their pipe could span a 150-foot gap, but their evidence documents only show it ever had survived a 15-foot gap, smaller than the Calypso Court sinkhole that developed about 2,000 feet from Sabal Trail on December 9th, causing evacuation of a condo west of Disney World.

For three years, Sabal Trail insisted it must finish by May 2017. Yet an article by Alan Maudlin in the VDT (December 29, 2016) said, “The $3.2 billion project is expected to be completed and in service by the end of June 2017.”

That’s a month late.

After unsupported claims of economic benefits, the VDT quoted Ms. Grover: “Additionally, based on the pipeline’s footprint in the county, Colquitt County can expect an estimated $745,000 in taxes. This ad valorem tax is paid annually once the pipeline is operational.”

Studies of pipelines in North Carolina and Texas show overall negative economic effects, including reduced property values resulting in lower tax bases, difficulties selling property with pipeline easements even nearby, and the economic stigma of a pipeline corridor.

Sabal Trail goes about a mile from Clyattville Elementary, where students, parents, and school board may not know Spectra Energy’s three-decade record of corrosion, leaks, and explosions.

Railroad Ave. to Clattville Elementary School
Image: Distance from Clyattville Elementary to Sabal Trail pipeline, Google map annotated by John S. Quarterman

Image: Sabal Trail alignment map 1657-PL-DG-70197-246, Railroad Ave., Clyatt Mill Creek, Lowndes County, Georgia

Despite Sabal Trail’s claim of a future tap in Colquitt County, this pipeline is not for Georgia. Three years ago Florida Power and Light (FPL) said Sabal Trail was needed for new Florida electricity.

FPL’s 2016 Ten-Year Plan says Florida needs no new electricity until 2024 at the earliest.

Maybe Sabal Trail is more about the four already-authorized liquid natural gas (LNG) export operations in Florida, including authorization for transport by truck and rail as far as Jacksonville and Miami.

Why should we risk our water, or give up land through eminent domain, for fossil fuel company export profit?

Meanwhile, as solar prices keep dropping, solar deployments keep increasing, second only to natural gas in the U.S. this year. The solar industry has more jobs now than oil and gas extraction.

According to Sabal Trail’s own figures, solar panels on half their pipeline’s acreage could produce just as much electricity.

Yet the VDT article claims lights, dishwashers, or air conditioning “requires a system of underground pipes carrying the fuel from where it’s produced to where it’s needed.”

My solar panels generate the most in sunny air conditioning days, with no pipelines, no eminent domain, no leaks, and no explosions.

Last year Georgia passed a historic solar financing bill. Georgia is the fastest-growing U.S. solar market. Valdosta won an award for solar power and LED lighting.

Floridians just defeated the utility-funded anti-solar Amendment 1. Even FPL built 1.2 megawatts of solar power at Daytona International Speedway.

We must insist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cancel the destructive $3 billion Sabal Trail boondoggle while we get on with deploying solar power in the sunny southeast.

John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER® President, WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.

The text is as the VDT printed it, plus I’ve added links to the evidence and images. If you’re wondering about the additional name, please see WWALS becomes Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®.

Florida is rising against this pipeline invader. Come on down (or up) to Live Oak Thursday and hear directly from the organizers of the camps and many actions including a mass bank exit, in ivers against Sabal Trail in Live Oak 7PM Jan 12 2017 —Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®.

Or come see for yourself Saturday where Sabal Trail is drilling under the Suwannee, in Suwannee Campsites to State Park against Sabal Trail 2016-01-14.

If you’re tired of all this pipeline stuff and just want to paddle on one of our blackwater rivers, also Saturday is Cook County Landing (GA 76) to Folsom Bridge (GA 122), Little River 2016-01-14. And for many more WWALS outings and events, see the WWALS calendar.

-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

PS: Thanks to the several WWALS members in Florida and Georgia who helped with this op-ed, and who have chosen to remain anonymous.

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!