As Florida’s demand for energy grows, Spectra Energy Corporation, NextEra Energy Inc., Duke Energy and the parent company of Florida Power & Light are looking to make big gains — no matter the costs. Construction is well underway on the Sabal Trail Transmission (STT), a gas pipeline carving through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
The $3.2 billion project crosses 13 counties in Florida and more than 700 bodies of water, including the Withlacoochee, Suwannee, and Santa Fe rivers. The EPA approved the project despite its concerns about the pipeline’s path through 177 acres of conservation areas, including the Green Swamp and Rainbow Springs in Florida. The pipeline will run a total of 480 miles.
One concern of the environmentalists is the disruption of the habitats of gopher tortoises, which are native to Florida. The species is listed as threatened, primarily due to habitat loss. These creatures are considered a keystone species because their deep burrows can be home to more than 350 other species. But, thanks to the power of eminent domain, Spectra can take over any land it needs for the project. State law requires the company to relocate gopher tortoises and obtain a permit from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission before capturing and releasing.
Florida’s rock structures (karst geology) are already prone to sinkholes, and a pipeline through these areas down to the aquifer underneath increases the risk of the ground simply collapsing, advocates say.
The Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club and other anti-STT groups also believe that the pipeline could potentially pollute the drinking water of more than 10 million people, increase the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere and increase Florida’s dependence on fracked natural gas.
“If methane or other chemicals leak into the aquifer, they won’t just float to the top ... These pipes are 120 feet underground; we may never even know there’s a leak,” Sierra Club representative Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson tells Folio Weekly.
The pipeline and its six compression stations are just one part of a larger network of fossil fuel infrastructure. The pipeline will initially carry methane gas, and will eventually be moving fracked gas, as well as the hundreds of toxic chemicals associated with fracking.
“Vibrations from the drilling can travel through limestone, causing cracks in Florida’s actual foundation,” said Erin Bassett, an environmental activist with a degree in coastal biology. “Leaks in the pipeline will not only affect our drinking water, but the microorganisms and the natural balance of life as we know it.”
Water Is Life Camp, near the Santa Fe River drilling area, is a place for “water protectors” to stay while protesting the pipeline’s construction. The camp has tents and gear to make it easy for anyone to learn about the pipeline and receive training. The Facebook page says the camp anticipates more visitors as people leave the Standing Rock protest site in North Dakota.
Spectra Energy has a long, dirty track record of safety violations and is responsible for numerous environmental disasters, according to Spectrabusters, a grassroots organization that opposes the Sabal Trail pipeline.
According to Spectra’s website page, “Common misconceptions,” Florida residents shouldn’t worry because “natural gas systems have a relatively small carbon footprint compared to overall emissions due to their small size and the low carbon content.” Concerned about contamination? The website assures readers that “no toxins are released during the construction or operation of the Sabal Trail facilities that would affect water quality.” Offering little to no scientific evidence for these claims, Spectra hopes the public will focus more on “job creation” and “tax revenue.”
Environmentalists complain that, instead of installing more solar panels on rooftops or expanding wind power, energy companies are continuing the old practice of long power grids, which are prone to outages.
Energized by what is seen as a victory over big energy at Standing Rock, those who have felt powerless and overwhelmed by huge energy corporations with seemingly endless influence may now be emboldened to fight this pipeline.
“Everything adds up,” said Malwitz-Jipson. “Sign petitions, go to demonstrations and write letters to your state and federal representatives.”
To that end, Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit with a 97 percent accountability and transparency rating, according to Charity Navigator, has started a petition urging elected officials and the FERC to halt the pipeline. And former Florida congressional candidate Tim Canova also started a Change.org petition urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop pipeline construction.
Lack of attention from large news organizations, minimal government regulation and blatant disregard for climate change has allowed the four energy companies’ pipeline construction to progress quickly with little pushback. Begun in June, the pipeline is already halfway to completion today.
Environmentalists now want people to ask themselves how they feel about private companies monopolizing necessary public utilities at the expense of our precious springs, aquifers and unique wildlife.
Watch a video about stopping the pipeline here.
The official Facebook page for opponents of the pipeline is here.
View a PDF of the pipeline here.