Drilling Mud Leak Sparks Concerns on Georgia – Florida Gas Pipeline

by S. Tom Bond on November 15, 2016

Sabal Trail Pipeline Project (AL-GA-FL)

Gas pipeline project headed to Suwannee River leaks into Georgia waterway; sparks environmental worries

From an Article by Steve Patterson, Jacksonville News, November 14, 2016

A leak in the shaft for a natural gas pipeline beneath a Georgia river has reinforced environmental worries at Florida’s Suwannee River and other waterways in the pipeline’s path.

The leak into the Withlacoochee River near Valdosta, Ga. underscored earlier concerns about twin hazards from the Sabal Trail pipeline: that pipeline shafts could leak contaminants into rivers, and let river water escape through cracks in the area’s sinkhole-riddled bedrock.

“What they said couldn’t happen did happen,” said John Quarterman, president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition Inc., a group fighting work on the 515-mile pipeline planned to cross three states.

The aquifer feeding North Central Florida’s signature rivers and springs already faces long-term supply strains, and pipeline critics argue that underground drilling could compound those if it accidentally opened routes for water to drain into underground voids and caverns.

The leak last month didn’t cause any harm, but the pipeline was already controversial.

Fourteen people – five from the Jacksonville area – were jailed over the weekend in Gilchrist County, west of Gainesville, after a demonstration protesting the project’s use of water from the Santa Fe River.

Another demonstration, opposing both Sabal Trail and the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, is planned Tuesday outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office on Jacksonville’s Southbank.

A contractor for Sabal Trail Transmission, the company building the pipeline, told Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division last month that material it described as “drilling mud” appeared in the Withlacoochee west of Valdosta, Ga., while workers were drilling a pilot hole under the river, a first step toward installing the pipeline.

Drilling mud is made with bentonite, a clay containing aluminum that’s used in some constuction for waterproofing. But it wasn’t waterproof enough last month.

As a crew drilled Oct. 20 under the Withlacoochee, near U.S. 84 between Valdosta and Quitman, Ga., an environmental contractor emailed regulators that “some kind of substance” floated to the river’s surface, and workers put up a barrier to keep it from moving downstream. The next day, the same contractor told the state drilling mud was found on the riverbed in about 2 feet of water.

A Sabal Trail Transmission spokeswoman, Andrea Grover, said the state and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “have reviewed and are satisfied that the work and containment is appropriate.”

Quarterman said he learned of the contractor’s emails Friday, when a state employee working through the Veteran’s Day holiday forwarded them to him as part of a public records request.

Quarterman said he didn’t know how the state reacted to the leak last month, but that two members of his organization checked the river Saturday and found a barrier still looping around a section of the waterway that was discolored.

The contractor’s emails to the state said drilling for the pilot hole was about 400 feet short of being complete on Oct. 21, but a construction progress report filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said that by Oct. 30 the pilot hole had been completed.

The report to the commission, which regulates gas pipelines, didn’t mention a leak. “There was never any danger to human health or safety, and no harm to the environment,” Grover said. But pipeline opponents had warned about risks before and said the leak shouldn’t have happened.

“I am so angry because this is what we said would happen and we were assured the rivers wouldn’t be affected because they were drilling under them,” Deanna Mericle, a member of WWALS, said in a release from the group describing the river Saturday.

“… We told them it was likely because of our karst geology and we got patronized and patted on the head. You can guarantee they will downplay it and just drill another hole,” Mericle said in the weekend statement.

Karst geology is the pattern of limestone bedrock and unpredictable voids that happens in a lot of Florida where water has gradually washed away porous rock. That process leads to sinkholes, and water management officials questioned whether underground drilling for the pipeline could create problems.

“We were considering the crossings of the rivers. … The porosity in the area is pretty high,” Carlos Herd, director of the Suwannee River Water Management District’s water supply division, said during a videotaped hearing last year about a challenge WWALS brought last year to fight approval of the pipeline by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

An administrative law judge concluded the group, which advocates for several watersheds near the Florida-Georgia border, didn’t show it had legal standing for the challenge. The judge said concerns the group’s members couldn’t enjoy rivers like the Suwannee or Santa Fe if they were damaged was “speculative.”

A spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection said the federal commission will regulate the pipeline, but state regulators inspected work as it progressed, the most recent time being last week. No problems were found, said the spokeswoman, Dee Ann Miller.

State officials will examine the Santa Fe by boat this week for water-quality violations or problems with construction runoff or other debris making the river too cloudy, Miller said.

Demonstrators arrested over the weekend were protesting the fact that water from the Santa Fe was being loaded into trucks for work on the pipeline project.

Protesters blocked a truck as it tried to move into a work area, with some climbing onto the trailer truck or getting under it, said Gilchrist County chief deputy Jeff Manning. He said one person used a bicycle lock around his neck to attach himself to the truck.

See also: www.FrackCheckWV.net

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Sabal Trail December 13, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Critics Call $3 Billion Sabal Trail Pipeline Florida’s Dakota Access Pipeline

From an Article By Larry Buhl, DeSmogBlog, December 10, 2016

A pipeline project is quietly being installed as fast as possible, critics say, displacing residents, threatening water supplies, and racking up alleged construction violations. And most people in the region — even those in the pipeline’s path — haven’t even heard about it.

Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, known as Sabal Trail, is using $3 billion of Florida Power and Light (FPL) ratepayer money to build a 515-mile pipeline to transport natural gas obtained via fracking from eastern Alabama to central Florida.

Authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in February, Sabal Trail is a joint project of Spectra Energy Corp., NextEra Energy, Inc., and Duke Energy.

In Alabama, Sabal Trail would connect to a pipeline network that will move one billion cubic feet of Marcellus-sourced gas from Pennsylvania to Florida, according to the company site, “to serve local distribution companies, industrial users and natural gas-fired power generators in the Southeast markets,” including FPL and Duke Energy of Florida.

Critics of Sabal Trail say the claim of meeting Florida residential and industrial users’ needs for more natural gas is bogus and point to evidence suggesting much of the gas will be sold and shipped internationally.

They also say Sabal Trail threatens the fragile limestone surrounding the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world.

And they’re angry that a private company is using eminent domain to force homeowners to sell their properties along the pipeline route.

The comparison between the Dakota Access and Sabal Trail pipelines is apt, critics say, because Enbridge, which is a stakeholder in the Dakota Access pipeline, has announced plans to buy Spectra Energy, one of Sabal Trail’s owners.

Eminent Domain Displaces Homeowners

In April FERC granted Sabal Trail a certificate of public convenience and necessity, giving the company a right to eminent domain. Thanks to a 2005 Supreme Court decision, local governments can force homeowners to sell their properties for private economic development projects. Along the Sabal Trail project route, several residents have been forced out, some surprised that they were even in the path of the pipeline.

Two Georgia brothers are now faced with paying Sabal Trail’s legal fees in defending their property against the pipeline. James Bell, one of the brothers, documents the company’s aggressive tactics in a video, saying:

“In my personal opinion I don’t see how a private for-profit company should be allowed eminent domain…I might understand it if it was for the greater good of the country but this is not. And it is certainly not the federal government or the state government building some road or highway.”

Bell and others along the Sabal Trail pipeline aren’t the only private landowners who have been displaced by pipeline companies’ right to eminent domain. The issue has sparked outrage among landowners in the way of the Dakota Access, Transco, and Sunoco Logistics pipeline routes.

Activists Document Construction Violations

Opponents of Sabal Trail say that pipeline construction alone poses a threat to local water resources by releasing hazardous materials and drilling mud into waterways, and they say that several incidents of negligence have intensified those concerns.

In November drilling mud from the Sabal Trail pipeline leaked into south Georgia’s Withlacoochee River, a tributary to the Suwannee River.

John Quarterman, president of the Wwals Watershed Coalition, one of the groups opposing Sabal Trail, tells DeSmog that the incident would never have been reported if he hadn’t seen it while flying over the area on a routine survey.

“I noticed this yellow thing across the river where they were doing horizontal directional drilling. The permitting agency admitted it was a turbidity curtain to contain drilling mud, but they weren’t telling me where the mud was coming from,” said Quarterman.

Quarterman told DeSmog such spills could affect the Floridan Aquifer, and that he wonders whether other discharges are not being reported publicly and whether the drilling could cause central Florida’s fragile underground cave system to collapse.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, an organizer with the Sierra Club in Florida, told DeSmog that activists have documented multiple construction violations in the last six weeks, from plowing down homeowners’ fences to creating sinkholes.

One activist, Ronald Reedy, told DeSmog he observed an enormous piece of equipment, a track hoe, stuck in a wetland area in central Florida on two different days.

“The track hoe was tilting at a 45-degree angle and leaking diesel fuel. You could see the rainbow reflecting from the fuel slick. They’re not supposed to drive these things into the wetlands,” said Reedy. “When they tried to remove it the next day, they had a man standing between two huge machines with no protection, an accident waiting to happen.”

Quarterman told DeSmog that activists are doing more oversight of construction than the permitting agencies. Malwitz-Jipson and Quarterman believe that many violations and non-compliance issues are due to the speed of construction to keep the pipeline on track. Construction began in June to meet a May 2017 deadline, which has now been pushed to June 2017.

“They’re slamming this pipe into the ground, under water, as fast as they can and they’re careless,” said Reedy.

Malwitz-Jipson told DeSmog she hopes that enough violations will be documented that the US Congress will step in. “Several citizens are in constant contact with key representatives who could take serious leadership and tell FERC to shut this down,” she said.

Stay tuned for more on the Sabal Trail pipeline, including an EPA about-face on its environmental impacts, as well as lawsuits against it and conflicting arguments about Florida’s current and long-term need for the natural gas it would bring.


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