The fight to keep fracking from Madison County has barely collected dust, and now a new threat to Madison County’s environment has occurred.
During the Wednesday, June 22 meeting of the board of county commissioners, John Quarterman, the president of the WWALS (Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, and upper Suwannee River) Watershed Coalition spoke to inform the commissioners and public about the Sabal Trail pipeline.
“The biggest problem is people have never heard of Sabal Trail, and when they do, people think it sounds like a hiking trail,” said Quarterman, before continuing, insisting that it was anything but a hike in Madison County’s beautiful wooded lands.
Sabal Trail is a pipeline that is a subsidiary LLC of Spectra Energy and plans to cut straight through whole portions of rural Georgia, Alabama and Florida land in order to pump massive amounts of fracked gas out of underground pockets in order to sell it to out of country buyers.
While the commissioners banned fracking in the county, these pipelines skirt ordinances by installing pipes to carry fracked gas, instead of doing the fracking itself.
Quarterman and Debra Randall, another member of WWALS, came before the commissioners to warn against the dangers of the pipelines.
For multiple reasons, the pipes concerned these two spokespeople, even though the pipes are not currently slated to run across land within the county’s borders. Even without coming across Madison land, these pipelines would, according to Quarterman and Randall, have a significant impact on the county, especially regarding Blue Springs State Park and the Withlacoochee River.
“[The pipes] will go just east of the Withlacoochee River and only half a mile from Madison Blue Springs,” said Quarterman, quoting evidence that has proven that underground water travels much further distances than from where the pipes are expected to be laid in surrounding counties.
In 2015, the Suwannee River Water Management District held a dye test in a Lowndes County spring, and samples of the dye appeared in a Madison County spring, coming under the Withlacoochee River to come up in a spring inside Madison County’s borders.
Quarterman warned that if dye samples could travel that distance, contaminants from the Sabal Trail pipeline could also travel from other counties into Madison County.
Quarterman also warned the drilling that the pipeline crews would be using is horizontal drilling – the same used for fracking – and it could cause the rupture of new sinkholes.
It was there that Randall had concerns. Should a sinkhole appear beneath a section of the Sabal Trail pipeline, it could cause immense stress of a section of pipe that is already under constant stress from the sheer tons of gallons of gas pumping through the line.
Already, there have been reports of Spectra Energy pipelines exploding, one particular case taking place in Pittsburg, Pa., and a man was sent to the hospital with extreme burns following the incineration of his home due to the pipeline’s explosion.
“Spectra Energy has one of the worst history of EPA violations,” said Randall. “If our water is contaminated, what will we drink?”
If a pipeline comes under stress due to a sinkhole and, by lucky chance, does not explode, Randall warned that work crews will pour concrete down into the sink hole, packing it full in attempts to save their pipeline from future problems.
According to Randall, who attended various job fairs and events put on by the Sabal Trail pipelines, there will be very few benefits to having the pipeline run locally. The line will not be hiring crewmembers, as they are bringing their own workforce. The only jobs will be temporary ones, such as cooks and general service for the crews, and none will be union jobs. Secondly, Randall advised the commission that spokespeople for the Sabal Trail had acknowledged the fact that they use thinner, cheaper pipe material in rural areas to save money.
“That is unacceptable,” said Randall. If anything, according to Randall, Sabal Trail should be using hardier material, especially as they will be laying pipelines down the ‘Sinkhole Belt’ of Georgia and Florida.
According to Randall and Quarterman, the Georgia legislature had refused to grant the Sabal Trail pipeline various permits and river easements, but despite that, Sabal Trail is moving forward anyway. While, right now, the ‘trail’ is not slated to run right through Madison, the two WWALS spokespeople warned that it could all change in the future. If Georgia continues to deny their requests, Sabal Trail will likely move through Alabama instead…which will put Madison right through its destructive pathway.
After allowing Quarterman and Randall plenty of opportunity to inform everyone about the dangers and the threat of the Sabal Trail pipeline, the county commissioners asked what steps the two WWALS representatives wished them to take.
Randall and Quarterman beseeched the commissioners to write to Florida lawmakers to implore that they do not permit Sabal Trail to enter the state.
Randall even interjected that, as the Sunshine State, Florida should be the leader of the clean energy movement and not permit this disastrous gas pipeline to disrupt the natural lands that North Florida boasts.
While the commissioners were asked to write to lawmakers, Quarterman encouraged civilians to get involved, too. Those with concerns about Sabal Trail are encouraged to visit http://www.wwals.net/issues/stt/ to learn about how to assist in keeping Sabal Trail out of Florida, to view maps of where Sabal Trail is proposed to run, as well as to view ongoing attempts at fighting against Sabal Trail and Spectra Energy in the Southeast Tri-State area.