Sabal Trail a month late and still sending the press disinformation

No, Ms. Grover, your pipeline is not a job generator for Florida, Georgia, or Alabama, and yes, you’ve slipped your schedule.

“Florida is swarming with protests, like an antbed stirred up by a 600-mile pipeline stick,” John S. Quarterman, president, WWALS Watershed Coalition

You know what would bring economic benefits to the Sunshine State? Solar power, which already employs more people than coal, oil, and natural gas combined, which produced 1 in 20 new jobs last year, and last year solar power produced more new electricity than any other source.

Ms. Grover is paid to picture that fossil-fuel cash-out in the best possible light. Yet once you know the actual facts, it looks more like the Picture of Dorian Gray.

“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” —Dorian Gray, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Joseph A. Mann Jr.,, 23 March 2017, With help from investor-Gov. Scott, Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline looks to open in June,

Construction on Florida’s third major gas pipeline, which will run about 516 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida when completed, began in September 2016. The line also has two gas compression plants, one at each end, and plans to build three more by 2021.

Opponents — including environmentalists, residents and landowners along the route — warn of environmental harm. For example, they say that drinking water sources and surface water bodies are being damaged by problems like leakage of diesel fuel on land and in water around construction sites, spills of drilling mud used when running the line under the Suwannee River, the appearance of sinkholes near building sites, which could foreshadow damage to karst limestone bedrock in the region, and damage to wetlands and other parts of the countryside as crews clear a 75- to 100-foot swath to lay the underground pipeline.

Complaints also come from landowners whose property was split to accommodate part the pipeline route and from people worried about the long-term safety of the line, which carries large volumes of flammable natural gas under extremely high pressure.

Moreover, some opponents question whether the utilities building this pipeline will actually need the new volumes of natural gas for Florida, and say they may be planning to liquefy and export gas at a later date.

“The construction of a natural gas transportation corridor threatens the state’s vulnerable fresh water supply and will leave Florida citizens having to deal with this forever,” Merrilee [Merrillee] Malwitz-Jipson, an organizer for the Sierra Club in northern Florida told the Florida Bulldog. Projects like this will make Floridians dependent on fossil fuel for many decades “when its citizens continually vote for solar energy and renewables,” she said. “We’re not alone. This is happening all over the country.”

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, then President of Our Santa Fe River, 1,000 feet is not enough, to Gilchrist BOCC, 20 February 2014, video by John S. Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange

Sierra Club volunteers watching construction work proceed have seen heavy equipment tipped over in wetlands, leaking fuel, a lack of appropriate fencing for wildlife and drainage of some bodies of water along the pipeline route, she added. “The pipeline is impacting 700 bodies of water between here and Alabama, and we don’t know if they are being restored.”

The article starts with a description of the pipeline, and continues after the above quote with a comparison to DAPL and Keystone XL, as well as a mention of the man killed by law enforcement, plus the involvement of Florida Gov. Rick Scott in the pipeline project, through at least previous ownership of stock in Spectra Energy, and two bills he signed in 2013 “that helped speed up the extended approval process.” Then it continues:

“Florida is swarming with protests, like an antbed stirred up by a 600-mile pipeline stick,” John A.[S.] Quarterman, president of WWALS Watershed Coalition and a key pipeline opponent, said in a recent interview. The coalition is the WATERKEEPER affiliate [Member] for the Suwannee River and its tributaries.

“I was the first to call for protests against the pipeline in 2014, and we’ve seen a big swell of support since the middle of last year,” said Quarterman, whose non-profit organization works for water conservation.

Hoping to derail the pipeline, WWALS filed a petition against Sabal Trail and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, seeking an administrative hearing. WWALS said that the pipeline poses a threat to native wildlife and that drilling in karst limestone along the pipeline would cause sinkholes. It also said that Gov. Rick Scott has a conflict of interest, since he has investments in Spectra Energy, part of Sabal Trail joint venture. This legal challenge was turned down.

In an interview, Quarterman also said that Florida utilities will not need the new volumes of natural gas to be provided by Sabal Trail, and suggested that they instead plan to liquefy and export a major share of future gas deliveries.

Pipeline needed?

“There is no need for this pipeline, and the approximately $3 billion being used would provide a lot of solar power for the Sunshine State,” he said.

FPL’s excuse in 2013 for Sabal Trail was new electricity for Florida. Yet FPL’s 2016 Ten Year Plan says Florida needs no new electricity until 2014 at the earliest. Way back in 2014 I demonstrated using Sabal Trail’s own figures that half the acreage of their pipeline right of way could generate just as much energy as their pipeline through solar panels, with no eminent domain, and no drilling under rivers or through wetlands or anywhere else. In 2016 more new U.S. electricity came from solar power than any other source (yes, more than natural gas), and the solar industry employs more people than coal, oil, and natural gas combined. Follow this link for details. The people of Florida voted last November for solar power, so let’s get on with it.

In defense of the natural gas transmission project, Andrea Grover, a spokeswoman at Spectra Energy, pointed out the following:

Well, I’m going to point out what actually happened on each of Ms. Grover’s points, and then quote what she wrote to see if you still believe what she wrote.

In 2013 Florida Power and Light (FPL) claimed Florida needed more electricity (13% more within a decade) so a third pipeline was needed. That would be 50% more, so the arithmetic never matched 13%, yet the Florida Public Service Commission (FL-PSC) rubberstamped it and later FERC believed it.

Then in its 2016 Ten Year Plan FPL admitted: “Difference: FPL does not project a significant long-term additional resource need until the years 2024 and 2025.”

In 2013 FPL also said it was necessary to “modernize” some coal plants by converting them to natural gas, but FPL’s 2016 Ten Year Plan says those specific coal plants have already been modernized.

So there is no need for Sabal Trail after all, according to FPL, the company whose customers are stuck with the $3.2 billion bill.

  • Before construction work began, she said, the company successfully went through an extensive permitting process, obtaining approval from a variety federal and state entities, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and others. The need for new natural gas supplies in Florida and an additional pipeline were demonstrated in the planning, permitting and approval process.

None of that later permitting addressed need, despite numerous people and organizations including WWALS asking for it to. FERC’s February 2016 Order granting a certificate of convenience and necessity said:

”85. We also have no reason to contest Florida Power & Light’s purported demand for natural gas. The Florida Public Service Commission issued an order finding that Florida Power & Light had demonstrated a need for additional firm capacity.”

So in February 2016 FERC said FL-PSC said it, and rubberstamped Sabal Trail.

But in April 2016 FPL admitted in its 2016 Ten Year Plan there is no need.

The permitting process FERC’s Environmental Impact Statement claimed to take environmental conditions into account. Nevermind that FERC hired pipeline crony Merjent to do much of that work and FERC refused to divulge the request for proposals for that contractor nor any of the proposals.

Yet Ms. Grover asserts:

  • Karst conditions exist in south-central George[Georgia] and northern Florida, the company spokeswoman said, and much larger infrastructure projects — highways, railroads, urban development — have been built in these areas already.

And anybody who was involved in those projects can tell you sinkholes were and are a problem. In south Georgia Lowndes County spent about half a million dollars moving a road that had collapsed into a sinkhole, for example.

Ms. Grover doesn’t mention that her pipeline gouges through the most vulnerable recharge area of the Floridan Aquifer from which most of Florida and south Georgia drinks, as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) told FERC back in 2014 before FDEP decided to issue a permit for Sabal Trail anyway.

Sabal Trail assured us and FDEP’s one witness asserted categorically under oath in WWALS vs. Sabal Trail in Jasper, FL in October 2015 that there was no danger to the Outstanding Water of Florida, the Suwannee River because they were drilling under it from upland to upland. One year later I discovered from a small plane that Sabal Trail had blown drilling mud up from its pilot hole under the Withlacoochee River, through the same kind of karst geography in south Georgia, into the river. This is exactly one of the things our Practicing Geologist expert witness warned them about in that hearing. They also caused a sinkhole at one of the Withlacoochee River HDD sites, two at the Santa Fe River HDD sites, and at least two in public roads in Florida. Sabal Trail violations FDEP assured us would not happen are happening.

Yet Ms. Grover has the temerity to say in public:

  • Sabal Trail uses best practices for its construction work, and its safety programs often exceed regulatory requirements.

Spectra Energy did not detect the corrosion that caused one of its pipelines to explode in Pennsylvania last year, incinerating a house and trees and sending its owner to the hospital with third-degree burns. Spectra did not detect the corrossion that caused one of its pipelines to blow up under the Arkansas River in Little Rock a year before. Spectra knew about but did nothing to fix the pipeline damage that corroded and blew up in the infamous Edison, NJ apartment fire. And on and on going back thirty years.

Yet Ms. Grover pretends nobody knows about all that:

  • After completion, the pipeline will be monitored around the clock according to state and federal safety regulations.

Yes, Spectra told that to people in Searsmont, Maine, who after a blowout at the compressor station said “We were lied to!”

Way back in February 2014 in Gilchrist County, Florida, Sabal Trail admitted it had already hired its principal contractors, all of which are companies from somewhere else, not Florida, Georgia, or Alabama. Ten days after FERC issued its permit, they were named by Pipeline News, 23 February 2016, “Price Gregory has been awarded contracts for spreads one, four and five; MPG P/L has been awarded a contract for spread two; Troy Construction has been awarded a contract for spread three; and Rockford Corp. has been awarded contracts for spreads six and seven.”

SabalXadX001 Sure, Sabal Trail held what it called contractor fairs for locals, and look at the list of jobs: welding supplies, but not welding, and no pipeline installation jobs.

Yet Ms. Grover makes bogus claims citing un-named “outside analysts”, in spite of what you can see with your own eyes, such as this Price Gregory truck exiting the Suwannee County, FL HDD site at the Suwannee River:

Price Gregory, US DOT 419565, TT272 FJ442394,
Price Gregory, US DOT 419565, TT272 FJ442394, 30.3992238, -83.1522607, Picture by John S. Quarterman for WWALS 20 March 2017

  • According to outside analysts, Sabal Trail is having a significant economic impact on Alabama, Georgia and Florida. This includes the creation of more than 5,600 construction jobs, over $207 million paid to construction workers and about $1 billion spent directly and indirectly on construction activities. Once completed, the pipeline and compression plants will have more than 500 permanent jobs and will provide new tax revenues for local governments. In Florida, the pipeline is expected to create more than 2,700 jobs during construction, and 288 permanent jobs after completion. Aside from construction wages, tens of millions of dollars are being spent in Florida for items like trucking, security, fuel, gravel, equipment rentals, meals and lodging, as well as other supplies and services.

She never talks about reduced tax revenues due to her pipeline lowering property values, not even just on properties with easements but those nearby. Studies by actual outside analysts such as Key-Log Economics of pipelines in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi show once those and other effects are taken into account, pipelines have negative economic effects. Same result for Houston, Texas in a study by researchers from Texas Southern University. Ms. Grover knows this; I pointed it out in January 2017 an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat countering some of her earlier misinformation.

Her misinformation goes back much farther than that. After her company gave its sales pitch to the Lowndes County Commission in December 2013, I asked her about her company’s Steckman Ridge compressor station leak. She had some feeble excuse. I asked her about the Final Order against Spectra of 21 December 2012 by PHMSA, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, for fines on five different points cited failure to follow both federal regulations and Spectra’s own company procedures. Ms. Grover disclaimed any familiarity with that, nor with the record 1989 $15 million EPA fine against Spectra for spilling PCBs at 89 pipeline sites.

Brian Fahrenthold and Andrea Grover of Spectra Energy and John S. Quarterman on WALB, in Spectra speaks about Sabal Trail pipeline at Lowndes County Commission, by Robert Hydrick, for WALB TV, 9 December 2013.

Yet Ms. Grover, four years later, still claims:

  • Pipeline representatives held public outreach meeting with landowners, community members and public officials. “Some stakeholders did raise concerns,” Grover said. “These have been vetted and addressed by Sabal Trail or federal and state agencies. No one had to be required to permanently relocate during construction.”

People did have to permanently relocate after that Pennsylvania explosion and after the Edison, NJ apartment fire.

FPL’s 26 July 2013 announcement of Sabal Trail refers to “the critical May 2017 in-service date.” For three years Sabal Trail in filing after filing with FERC insisted it had to be finished by May 2017. Until it started construction, months late, in late 2016, after which Ms. Grover started saying June 2017.

Yet she claims:

Asked if protests had significantly delayed construction, Grover said that the current in-service date (June 2017) was changed from May 2017 due to normal internal decision-making, planning (which began around 2013) and permit applications.

However, one section of Sabal’s website said that original in-service date would be March 2017.

Yeah, Sabal Trail may have though it could finish early, before it encountered massive opposition.

When it finishes a segment, Sabal Trail plants exotic invasive grasses to cover its tracks.

Construction is still underway in several of the Florida counties in the pipeline’s path, and over 81 percent of the pipe is in the ground. The pipeline is installed in a type of “assembly line” process. Construction crews first clear an area up to 100 feet wide, grade the land, dig a ditch for the pipeline, string pipe sections together, weld and then lower the pipe into the ditch, which is filled in. The work area is then cleaned up and vegetation is restored.

No, Ms. Grover, stripping away all the native vegetation and replacing it with Bahia grass and Bermuda grass is not “restored”.

The Georgia Forestry Association, representing landowners of the biggest industry in Georgia, opposes eminent domain for pipelines, partly because you can’t grow trees on a pipeline easement.

Yet Ms. Grover ignores that and says:

“Following pipeline installation,” Grover said, “all disturbed areas will be returned as close as possible to their original contours. Temporary [construction] workspace will be allowed to return to its original state. The entire work area will be restored in compliance with all applicable federal, state and local permits.

Newsflash, Ms. Grover: it takes decades to grow back trees on your “temporary workspace” and never on your easement.

And to get those easements Sabal Trail sued a Georgia Centennial Farm and stuck a pair of brothers with $47,000 in Sabal Trail legal expenses before gouging through their land without a contract or any payment.

“As part of our commitment, we want to establish a positive footprint in the communities along the pipeline route where [permanent] Sabal Trail representatives will live and work.” This means donations and community efforts from pipeline employees over the long run.

Even Ms. Grover, paid to put the best face on her pipeline monstrosity, can’t whitewash the stain Sabal Trail has already made.

And you can’t burn it up, either, Sabal Trail, even though your Houston, TX contractor Troy Construction illegally tried that in Brooks County, GA:

Carries tie

Ms. Grover is from Houston Texas, as is her company. Oh, sorry, her CEO, Greg Ebel is Canadian, and Spectra has just been bought by Enbridge of Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Grover doesn’t mention that when she writes:

“By bolstering community vitality, Sabal Trail is supporting the communities where we will be working and operating for many years to come,” Grover said. “Sabal Trail operators and their families are part of these communities too.”

As I told Ms. Grover the first time I met her back in 2013, I have two pipelines on my property. One of them was broken in 2014 by a dirt road ditch puller in the next county, causing a plume of dust 300 feet high. Fortunately there was no spark, or people I’ve known all my life might have had no homes to go back to, if they had been able to go back at all. And that was a tiny 9-inch pipeline. The much bigger area of Sabal Trail’s 36-inch pipeline would carry 16 times as much fracked methane.

Fifty years ago when that pipeline was put in, or even five years ago, there may have been an economic argument for such pipelines. But not any more. Solar power has won the economic race. It is already cheaper than any other source of power, even wind. Georgia is the fastest-growing U.S. solar market. $3.2 billion would buy a lot more electricty through solar power than that pipeline boondoggle would ever supply.

There’s still time to cancel that unnecessary, destructive, and hazardous greed grab by an industry trying to cash out before natural gas crashes like coal already has. Here are some things you can do divest, protest, and more.

Whatever you do, don’t believe Sabal Trail’s misinformation.

No new pipelines.

Solar power now!

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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

3 thoughts on “Sabal Trail a month late and still sending the press disinformation

  1. Haley Haltiwanger

    I cannot thank you enough for the in-depth coverage on this issue. I have been out of the Valdosta area for a few years now but this has been a great resource to inform myself on the issues I’ve been missing. PLEASE keep up the great work. I hope the increase in political activism recently benefits you. Will you have a booth at Wanee? I’d like to post on my social media about it so my friends and others come to learn from you all! And I also want a t-shirt.
    Since I won’t be at Wanee to usher people to your booth I’d like to donate whether you have a t-shirt or not. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Protests across Florida against Sabal Trail, which is worse than reporters think | WWALS Watershed Coalition (Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®)

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