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On Sunday May 15, 2016, on a bright and beautiful day in North Florida, a group of about 30 people gathered at Suwannee River State Park northwest of Live Oak to talk about Sabal Trail and the inaccuracies and omissions in its report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
One of the purposes of the meeting was to show first hand, on a field trip, the sinkhole-ridden corridor planned by Sabal Trail, to several Florida leaders who are in position of power to correct these issues.
Among these were Congressman Ted Yoho, Executive Director of Suwannee River Water Management District Noah Valenstein, Commissioner Clyde Fleming from Suwannee Co. and Beth Burnam from Hamilton Co., Mary Louise Hester, aide to Sen. Bill Nelson, candidates aspiring to office, including OSFR advisor Marihelen Wheeler and Jerry Bullard of Jasper.
Representatives from various organizations and groups were present including OSFR, WWALS, Sierra Club Florida, Environment America, Environment Florida, SpectraBusters, Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, the Miccosukee Tribe, and perhaps more. If some were left out, it was inadvertent.
Concerned non-affiliated citizens in the path of the pipeline were also present, such as Janet Burrow from Marion County near Rainbow Springs, as well as locals like Dave Shields, and news reporter Jake Galvin drove up from Orlando.
The greatest distance traveled was by Kimberly Williams, Clean Water Network Coordinator for Environment America, from Washington, D.C., but Bobby Billie of the Miccosukee Tribe came from South Florida, and Jennifer Rubiello, State Director for Environment Florida from the St. Pete area.
Modesty impaired clarity, but it seems that Kimberly Williams and Jennifer Rubiello, along with Chris and Deanna Mericle and John Quarterman of WWALS can take the credit for organizing this fruitful undertaking. Several other strong environmental leaders were present, among them Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, Debra Johnson, Maryvonne Devenski, and Gale Dickert.
The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) which FERC wrote was based largely on what Sabal Trail turned in, and the conclusion was that there would be no significant impact. It is now clear that the geology in that report was flawed and contained outright lies. The most obvious discrepancy is that the report states the nearest karst/sinkhole phenomenon is 750 feet from the pipeline corridor.
Evidence to the contrary can be easily recognized by the layman, as during the walk it was seen that the corridor within the boundaries of Suwannee River State Park, is rife with sinkhole depressions, with dozens occurring within the 100-foot wide corridor, and some almost in the center.
There are two crossing sites, the Suwannee River and the Falmouth Cathedral Cave. These sites are several miles apart.
Geologists Dennis Price and Peter Schroeder both concur that the distance that the Falmouth Cathedral Cave lies under the land surface is approximately 30′. It is unclear how deep the pipeline will be installed under the highway and railroad. Our estimates put it at a depth of 15′ or more. This only leaves about 15′ of earth between the pipeline and the roof of the cave/spring conduit. Both geologists agree that disturbing the soil to this depth right above the cave/spring conduit will likely cause sinkhole activity ultimately collapsing the cavern roof.
Sabal Trail does not have a karst mitigation plan that addresses the collapse of the cave /spring conduit.
“The rivers are the base of the groundwater flow system and are the discharge areas.” “There is little or no flow beneath the river.” “Potential impacts would be confined to the vicinity of the HDD crossing.”
These are but two obvious inaccuracies perpetrated by Sabal Trail. Since these two are so apparent, it begs the question “what else is Sabal Trail hiding, that we can’t see?” The concern is intensified when we note that Sabal Trail has one of the worst safety records in the industry.
Serious accidents occur with some regularity in this company, the latest being less than a month ago on April 29, 2016, when a Spectra Energy pipe exploded in Pennsylvania, severely injuring a person and destroying a house and trees. And less than one year ago, a Spectra Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline blew up under the Arkansas River near Little Rock.
It is of interest to note the following, from Wikipedia:
Since 2006, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reports twenty-five separate incidents at Spectra’s Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline ranging from equipment failure to incorrect operations to pipe corrosion. Combined, those incidents caused $12,036,495 in property damage, and the US federal government fined Spectra a total of $403,100 over that period. Similarly the US federal government has imposed $154,700 in penalties since 2007 at Spectra’s Algonquin Gas Transmission Pipeline for a single incident from 2010. An incident in 2010 from Spectra’s Southeast Supply Header Pipeline did $561,563 in property damage, which led to it being fined a total of $201,300 by the US federal government.
Spectra Energy may be considered the single largest private-sector source of greenhouse gases in British Columbia. Since it co-owned DCP Midstream Partner with ConocoPhillips, Spectra Energy was reported in 2005 to emit 19,746 tons of nitrogen oxides and 9,286 tons of volatile organic compounds per year. As of August 2015, Canada’s National Energy Board has fined Spectra’s subsidiary Westcoast Energy a total of $122,300 for violations.
As a result of the walk on Sunday we have Rep. Yoho’s commitment to make sure the word will be out. Our thanks go to him, Noah Valenstein, and all the others who took time out of their day off on Sunday to spend learning about environmental issues.
Sometimes just being around others who are trying to help the planet is uplifting, renewing and refreshing because the uphill fight can be discouraging.