State and local responses to Dunnellon Sabal Trail stink

Sabal Trail did not notify state or local officials about their “odorant” leak at the Dunnellon Compressor Station site, and Sabal Trail’s response to WWALS failed to mention local people called the same stink in to 911 two days in a row. FDEP said there’s no need so long as Sabal Trail follows various permits, but gave no indication of who is checking to see if Sabal Trail does that. Apparently we the people have to keep doing what the state and federal agencies still aren’t doing: watch Sabal Trail like a hawk.

Via FL 200
Google map of locations of Dunnellon High School and Sabal Trail Dunnellon Compressor Station. You can see most of the 100-foot Sabal Trail right of way.

Below are responses from FDEP and more details from Marion County Public Relations and Fire and Rescue, and from Dunnellon Fire and Rescue: none of them were notified by Sabal Trail, and FDEP seems OK with that. For the rest, an emergency plan would be prudent: “Run like hell” as in Spectra compressor station incidents elsewhere, is probably not adequate.

The agencies that permitted this pipeline boondoggle should be held accountable for minor incidents like this stink leak, or for major compressor station incidents such as in Searsmont, Maine, or Steckman Ridge, Pennsylvania, and for pipeline explosions such as the one in Palm City Florida that could have hit a high school if it had thrown that pipe in a different direction. However, given that 500-mile-long IED did get permitted and has been installed, it would be prudent for local emergency responders to have an emergency plan.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)

I copied the 19 questions from WWALS to Lisa Prather of FDEP, the one FDEP witness in WWALS vs. Sabal Trail & FDEP in October 2015 who assured us that Sabal Trail violations would not happen that have happened, but hers was the only address that bounced. I then forwarded it to Russell Simpson, “Ombudsman/Media & External Affairs, Northeast District”, (thanks to Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson for the suggestion) and got this response:

From: Simpson, Russell <>
To: Wwals Watershed Coalition <>
Date: Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 2:51 PM
Subject: WWALS Questions about Leak at Sabal Trail Dunnellon Compressor Station Site

Mr. Quarterman,

Thank you for your below inquiry.

Out of the 19 questions you posed, only 2 questions were directed to DEP, Question No. 2 and 4.

Below is our staff reply that was provided by Nicole Martin from our Central District as the Dunnellon site referenced would fall under Central district’s jurisdictional oversight. Should you have additional questions please contact Nicole directly at (407) 897-2948 or .

Question No. 2 — A report of a spill incident at the Dunnellon Compressor Station has not been received. Based on information obtained from Sabal Trail, a passerby contacted local law enforcement on July 16th about “smelling gas”. Law enforcement, the local fire department, along with Sabal personnel responded to the Dunnellon location. Sabal investigated and found a fitting on the odorant piping that needed adjusting. There was not a natural gas leak found.

Question No. 4 — To my knowledge DEP was not notified of the work at the Dunnellon Compressor Station. However, reporting is not required if all the Permit Specific Conditions for Aboveground Facilities and Monitoring/Reporting Requirements are met, along with the Spill Prevention and Countermeasure Plan.

Sincerely, FDEP logo
Russell Simpson
Ombudsman/Media & External Affairs
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Northeast District—Jacksonville
Office: 904.256.1653

FDEP, like Sabal Trail, only admits to the stink leak being called in on one day, when that actually happened on two days; see below.

Who at FDEP is monitoring Sabal Trail to ensure that “the Permit Specific Conditions for Aboveground Facilities and Monitoring/Reporting Requirements are met, along with the Spill Prevention and Countermeasure Plan”?

Marion County Public Relations

A local citizen got this response from Stacie Causie, Marion County Public Information Specialist:

I received the following information from Enbridge, Inc. via the County Engineer:

“A passerby contacted local law enforcement on July 16th about ‘smelling gas,’ and they (law enforcement) responded to the Dunnellon location. Per protocol, Sabal Trail Transmission was contacted. The investigation led to the discovery of a fitting on the odorant piping in need of adjustment. There was not a natural gas leak. “

I have also located Sabal Trail’s contact information web page, here.
The specific numbers you requested are provided on the page as:

  • For general operations questions about your property: 407-390-1075
  • Immediate needs/24-hour emergency gas control: 888-568-7269

She indicated the Sheriff’s office would be the keeper of law enforcement or emergency response reports, and she said she would follow up about other possible communications.

I already called the Marion County Sheriff’s Department two weeks ago, and was told there was nothing to report. Only the Fire Department said there was a leak of some kind and Sabal Trail had been working out there for days since Sunday July 16, 2017.

Marion County Fire and Rescue

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of Sierra Club Florida also followed up with Marion County, and got a telephone response on July 27, 2017, which she transcribed as follows:

James Lucas, Public Information Officer, just returned my call.

He called me from 352-291-8094.

The number I originally made the inquiry Marion County Fire and Rescue Department 352-291-8000

This is the basic time line and some more feedback he gives me about training for emergencies.

Dunnellon Compressor Station and reports of “odor that smells like gas”

Sunday July 16th

  1. 7:09 pm. 911 computer aided narrative dispatch call came in.
  2. smell of gas odor at this location: SW HWY 200 and SW 136th Place
  3. shortly after call came in, the Hazmat and Local Engine (#31) was sent out for a “gas leak and immediate fire assist”
  4. District Captain of the Hazmat talked onsite with technicians (Mr. Lucas is unsure if they were Sabal Trail employees). Technicians said they had it handled. No need for Hazmat or fire service help.
  5. Mr. Lucas told me the Department does not know if there was a “gas leak”. He did confirm the reports were an “odor that smelled like gas in the air”.
  6. The area was cleared of emergency personnel at 8:46 pm.

Next morning and the same shift is on duty for MCFR and Hazmat staff.

Monday July 17th

  1. 6:40 am. 911 phone call dispatch
  2. odor of gas at SW HWY 200 and 121st Court, Mr. Lucas tells me this is the same address location.
  3. 6:44 am The District Captain of the same evening’s Hazmat team has contact with the “technicians” that were on site the previous night and because they tell the Captain they have it handled…again. The Captain makes the professional decision it is not necessary to send out emergency services again. No one from MCFR (Marion County Fire and Rescue) goes to the location.

I asked how often Marion County Emergency Fire and Rescue staff are trained for gas explosions for transmission lines; I know that FGT is also running lines in this area. Mr. Lucas knows there are pipelines but does not know the name of the company(s) who own them.

Mr. Lucas tells me the Hazmat teams are trained for everything. But after I question more and relate my knowledge of Georgia emergency personal being trained quarterly by SONAT and FGT and now Sabal for transmission and domestic pipeline explosions and does his county do this, he is only aware of the Hazmat universal training.

I told him that when there is a leak followed by another leak and no service vehicle goes out especially on the second leak, that is very concerning to me. I told him I do not trust Sabal Trail, if that is who is fixing anything. What if there was an explosion, then where would your community be?

I made him rest assured my issue is with Sabal Trail and this odor leak….not the staff at Marion County Fire and Rescue. But I am very concerned about this situation moving forward and this is just the beginning.

-Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Dunnellon Fire and Rescue

Before the Dunnellon City Council meeting July 24, 2017, I spoke briefly with Troy Slattery, Dunnellon Fire Chief since last July. He told me the City of Dunnellon had not been notified about the Sabal Trail leak, because it was out of their jurisdiction and too far away.

Troy Slattery, Fire Chief; unknown person
r: Tory Slattery, Fire Chief, Dunnellon, Florida

Compressor Station Incidents

Indeed, the compressor station is six or seven miles as the stink flies from Dunnellon City Hall. However, I’d say there’s a good chance Dunnellon Fire will be called to assist if there’s a venting incident like the one at Searsmont, Maine on New Year’s Eve 2013, “so loud that it caused nearby homes to shake and some residents, frightened by the jet-engine-like roar, to pack up their cars and flee for the night.”

Spectra (now Enbridge) didn’t notify anybody about that one, either. Instead:

“The necessary remedial action has been taken,” [Marylee] Hanley [ Director, Stakeholder Outreach at Spectra Energy, Greater Boston Area] wrote Tuesday morning. “We will provide information on the series of events that occurred and the subsequent actions taken at the public meeting we are hosting.”

At that public meeting, local residents said they had been lied to, and “you are showering me with chemicals”.

Searsmont, Maine, Jan 21, 2014, pipeline gas release meeting with Spectra Energy reps
Published on Jan 22, 2014 by Penbay Pilot
Searsmont, Maine, citizens meet with Spectra Energy representatives to talk about New Year’s Eve gas venting

[Susan] Waller [ Vice President Stakeholder Engagement at Spectra, now Enbridge] said that in the event of a true emergency, local responders would evacuate residents and control traffic, while engineers would remotely shut the valves down to prevent gas from going in the Searsmont facility.

Local residents were not aware of any evacuation plan other than “Run like hell.”

The same Marylee Hanley first denied there even was a leak at the Steckman Ridge Compressor Station in Pennsylvania, until none other than Andrea Grover, Director of Stakeholder Outreach, admitted there was “a release of methane and other hydrocarbons; but so far the company refuses to say how much.” Yes, the same Andrea Grover who has all along assured us all that Sabal Trail is safe and knows what it is doing, yet the same Andrea Grover who was “unfamiliar” in Valdosta with that Pennsylvania incident as well as with 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. She disclaimed any familiarity with that.

Meanwhile, Arthur Buff of PHMSA’s Office of Pipeline Safety already said on July 21, 2017:

The proposed Dunnellon compressor station has not commenced construction. It is part of the Phase II construction, which will start in late 2019 or early 2020.

So apparently PHMSA wasn’t notified by Sabal Trail about the recent incident, either, and does not expect to be until 2020. Which further motivates several of the questions Sabal Trail did not answer.

More generally, who’s watching Sabal Trail? Apparently not FERC or USACE, which have characteristically made no response at all the inquiries from WWALS and others. Not FDEP. Not PHMSA. Who, then?

For more about Spectra’s history of not notifying anybody about compressor station problems, see “The most terrifying experience”: Spectra blows another compressor station, SpectraBusters, 20 January 2014. and Spectra Safety Violations.

Pipeline Explosions

So far as I can tell the Sabal Trail pipeline is just outside the city limits at its closest approach, which is half a mile east of Dunnellon High School, as student James Huston has been telling people for many months. Another student said the school board wouldn’t even let her speak to them about Sabal Trail.

Dunnellon High School and Sabal Trail half a mile away
Aerials: Sabal Trail half mile from Dunnellon High School, WWALS, 8 February 2017.

However, if Sabal Trail blows up there like Transco’s pipeline of the same size did in Marengo County, Alabama in 2011, flaming a hundred feet up, heard more than 30 miles away, leaving a crater more than 50 feet wide, destroying 65 acres of trees, frying five acres of soil into pottery, and launching a 43-foot pipe section as a missile that landed 190 feet away, I suspect Dunnellon Fire would be called.

Transco pipeline explosion crater, Marengo County, AL, 2011
Photo: TXsharon, Bluedaze drilling reform, 2 January 212, Pictures: Acres of devastation from Williams gas pipeline explosion in Alabama

Even a much smaller pipeline that blew up in 2009 in Palm City, Florida flew a 104-foot piece of 18-inch pipe through the air, shut down both the Florida Turnpike and I-95, and fortunately missed a high school.

Rupture next to I-95 and high school
NTSB/PAB-13/01 of 13 August 2013 in Methane pipeline blew up onto Florida Turnpike next to high school, SpectraBusters, 11 February 2014.

In these and many other cases, the cause, often only admitted much later, was corrosion undetected and unmitigated until there was a leak or explosion.

Emergency Plan

If I were a local emergency responder within miles of the Sabal Trail pipeline, I would be more concerned about Sabal Trail not notifying anybody, nobody checking to see if Sabal Trail is following the permits, and having a plan for what to do in case of major incident such as leak or explosion. Such a plan should include where the money is going to come from. Sabal Trail already spent Marion County tax dollars when Fire and Rescue scrambled out to the compressor station that Sunday. How much more local funds would be spent in the case of the compressor station venting or an explosion?

For example, see Martin County Fire Rescue’s LNG vulnerability analysis.

LNG explosion radius map, Martin County Fire Rescue
SE Bridge Road and SE Dixie Highway from Martin County’s Vulnerability Analysis of Florida East Coast Rail’s Transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Martin County Fire Rescue, December 2015, in Vulnerability of LNG by Rail —Martin County Fire Rescue 2015-12-15, WWALS, 13 January 2017.

What does liquid natural gas (LNG) in Martin County have to do with Sabal Trail? Everything: several LNG liquefaction operations were authorized in Martin County at the end of the Transco → Sabal Trail → FSC pipeline chain even before Sabal Trail itself was permitted, and Florida East Coast Rail (FECR) has authorization to pick up LNG from at least one of those and ship it as far as Miami and Jacksonville.

Let me be clear: the county and city emergency responders and local governments did not permit this 500-mile-long IED. Marion BOCC even asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), along with Suwannee, Madison, and Hamilton Counties, Florida, and resolutions against Sabal Trail by multiple Georgia counties and cities. Plus Marion County Fire and Rescue has provided by far the most informative response about the recent incident.

The fault lies with FDEP and other state agencies and USACE (which refused to do a SEIS or to inspect any sites) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that permitted Sabal Trail. Those agencies should be held responsible for incidents like this one or like those much more serious ones.

However, since Sabal Trail has been installed, it would be prudent for local first responders to have a plan. “Run like hell” is probably not an adequate plan for example for the residents of Florida Highlands, directly across FL 200 from Sabal Trail, and it’s really not adequate for Dunnellon High School.

And since that stagecoach line in an electric car world has been installed, everyone needs to continue watching Sabal Trail like a hawk.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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4 thoughts on “State and local responses to Dunnellon Sabal Trail stink

  1. JDP

    My father ran Dunnellons KP Hole down from Rainbow Springs in 1982-1993. My stepsister attended, graduated from their high school…. This Sabal Trail just a stones throw from there is disturbing

  2. Janet Barrow

    Thank you for writing this article. It is a “must-read” that ties together a few jagged edges at the tip of the iceberg that is the Sabal Trail boondoggle. Speaking of icebergs, the “Titanic” comes to mind.

    1. jsq Post author

      Thanks, Janet. As you know, there is much more to be written, and we need the state and federal agencies to do something. -jsq

  3. Pingback: WWALS to OSHA: Chronic Leaks at Sabal Trail Dunnellon Compressor Station Site, Marion County, Florida | WWALS Watershed Coalition (Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®)

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