Proposed gas pipeline could threaten Tampa Bay water supply
listen

05/19/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: EPA, Sabal Trail, Anita Stewart, SpectraBusters, environment, water, natural gas

A coalition of energy companies including Florida Power and Light wants to build a 460-mile long natural gas pipeline through Florida and two other states. But environmentalists are pushing back against the project they say could contaminate aquifers. Anita Stewart is a district supervisor for the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District. She’s worried about a section of the pipeline that could bisect parts of a preserved area in Sumter and Pasco counties.

“This pipeline is going to go into the Green Swamp and it will affect Tampa Bay’s drinking water if there ever is an accident or an explosion.”

A group called SpectraBusters formed in opposition to the Sabal Trail project. The group’s founder, John Quarterman agrees that a natural gas pipeline through Florida could be disastrous for some water supplies.

“And that’s water and pockets and fragile limestone under the ground, the same limestone that also fractures and forms sinkholes when somebody draws too much water out of it or pokes a hole in it. So, does it make sense to have a 100-foot wide gash with heavy equipment right through the wetlands that serve as recharge zones for this aquifer? And does it make sense to have a yard-wide pipeline put underneath our river deep into the same limestone into which some of our rivers already leak?

The EPA has issued a list of questions it wants the Sabal Trail group to answer about the project. Among those is why the pipeline is even necessary. A spokesperson for the group, Andrea Grover, said current pipelines including one that goes through the Gulf of Mexico aren’t meeting Florida Power and Light’s needs.

“The Gulfstream pipeline is completely used every single day. The volumes that that pipeline can deliver are completely being used all the time. The Florida gas transmission system, from what I understand, is near that capacity as well. So, a third pipeline was needed in order to deliver gas into the Southeast for some of these power generation facilities.”

A letter from the EPA notes that FP&L users have been using less energy leaving the utility with shrinking energy demand since 2005. That’s making critics of the project like Spectrabuster’s Beth Gordon speculate that the $3 billion pipeline would pad the company’s bottom line by allowing it to export natural gas.

“But they said that their ten-year projection, they’re going to need x-amount of gas. Well, what this particular pipeline would supply, in their own words is three times that amount. And the other pipelines are not fully utilized. So, the answer is, they don’t need this pipeline for Florida.”

And if that’s the case Gordon says it’s not fair to ratepayers.

“The people of the state of Florida and, in particular, FP&L customers, they are paying 100% for this pipeline. So, they’re footing the bill over the years to the tune of $3.5 billion and I guaran-friggin-tee you it’ll be more.”

The EPA is also looking for environmental safeguards on the pipeline. Quaterman, from the anti-Sabal Trail group Spectrabusters, is also concerned about safety.

“And what if one of these pipelines leaked or explodes as have happened in Florida? For example, in 2009, between I-95 and the Florida Turnpike. One blew up, a much smaller one, and threw a piece of pipe all the way across the Florida Turnpike.”

But Grover, the project’s spokesperson, insists there would be adequate safeguards in place to ensure smooth operation and quick response if a leak were to occur.

“There are valves that are up and down the pipeline as well as what we call gas control that is, remotely, that is continuously checking for pressures and stuff like that and in the event that there’s any small deviation that may or may not indicate an issue, we would see those things and then remotely be able to shut off that section of the pipeline and go out and check it to ensure the integrity of that piece of pipe.”

She adds there are also eyes on the ground monitoring pipelines.

“In addition, we have local folks that work up and down the pipeline and are continuously inspecting and maintaining that pipeline. They’re working at the stations, they’re driving up and down the pipeline route, they’re looking for things that we need to maintain the upkeep of.”

The EPA letter raising concerns about the project also points to a potential alternative. A ship 30 miles off the coast of Tampa called Port Dolphin has been cleared for development. It could process about the same amount of natural gas as Sabal Trail. Grover says that’s FP&L’s preference. But she’s not surprised by the questions raised.

“It’s something that we would expect from an agency such as the EPA on a project that is this size and of a natural gas pipeline and typical of what we’ve seen on other projects.”

Grover says the group is working to answer all of the EPA’s questions and doesn’t anticipate too many problems. But Spectrabuster’s Quarterman says his group will continue to push back against the project in favor of alternative energy sources he says are more sustainable and safer.

“I’ve never heard of a set of solar panels catching fire and burning or blowing up and throwing a pipe across a highway or in any other way endangering people.”

If all goes well for the Sabal Trail project, construction should start sometime in the summer of 2016 and wouldn’t be in service until 2017.

comments powered by Disqus