JUNO BEACH, FLORIDA – An attorney for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, one
of three environmental groups that have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit to stop construction on three Southeastern pipeline
projects, said its primary concerns are the impacts the $3.2 billion Sabal
Trail Pipeline project will have on the Chattahoochee River, its tributaries
and the communities along those waterways.
The Sierra Club, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Flint
Riverkeeper filed an emergency motion to stop the construction on Oct. 24. The
groups, which are based in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, said they want the
appeals court to put the project on hold until they can decide whether to
appeal the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of the
Kevin Jeselnik, staff attorney with the Chattahoochee
Riverkeeper, said the Sabal Trail project will supply natural gas to Florida,
shipping it from Alabama through Southwest Georgia.
After going through Georgia, the pipeline will extend into
Florida. A total of 126 miles of the 685-mile project is slated to begin in
central Florida and run to Martin County. After that, existing pipelines will
be used to carry the natural gas to Florida Power & Light Co.’s Riviera
Beach and Port Everglades facilities.
The environmental groups have said they believe the pipeline
projects would also cause harm along the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers in
“It provides no product or benefits to Georgia, yet it
crosses at least three of our rivers or streams and impacts a number of lower
income and minority communities that so often have to bear the risk of these
potentially dangerous pipeline routes,” Jeselnik told the Florida Record.
Jeselnik said pipelines, like the ones being constructed as
part of the Sabal Trail project, can rupture and explode. In fact, he said this
sort of explosion happened last year on the Arkansas River.
“The potential for such a disaster is compounded along the
proposed route through Georgia because it will be buried in sinkhole-prone
karst terrain prevalent in the area,” Jeselnik said. “It’s irresponsible to
site a natural gas pipeline in soils and regions that increase the risk of
explosions and releases of the natural gases.”
According to Jeselnik, FERC has a responsibility to the
American people, particularly those impacted by these unnecessary pipeline
“The agency needs to work for the citizens rather than
rubber-stamping any project the industry proposes,” he said.
Steven D. Caley, the legal director at GreenLaw who filed
the lawsuit on behalf of the environmental groups, said the pipeline is not
needed given advances in energy, efficiency and renewable forms of energy.
“It will lock us into dirty fossil fuels for several more
decades when cost-competitive renewable forms of energy are available,
particularly solar in the 'Sunshine State,'” Caley told the Florida Record.
In addition, Caley said the pipeline companies “will use the
heavy hand of eminent domain to forcibly take citizens' private property for
the companies’ private profit.”
Caley said the project will decimate the environment,
totally destroying thousands of acres of forests and forested wetlands. He also
said Spectra Energy, one of the primary owners of the project, has a documented
history of pipeline accidents, explosions and regulatory fines for safety and
poor maintenance issues.
The Sabal Trail project is owned by Duke Energy, which holds
a 7.5 percent stake, Spectra Energy Partners, which holds a 59.5 percent stake,
and Florida Power & Light parent NextEra Energy, which holds a 33 percent
The pipeline projects are currently scheduled to be
completed by May 2017. Caley said on Nov. 8 that a ruling on the request to halt
the project and on emergency consideration of the groups’ appeal was expected “in
the next few days.”
“If the case is not expedited, we likely will not receive a
decision until the fall of 2017,” Caley said. “The pipeline will be fully
constructed by that time.”
Together, the three projects encompass the Southeast Market
FERC granted approval of the pipeline construction projects to
Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC and Florida
Southeast Connection LLC in February.