EPA Totally Reverses Position On Pipeline

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed its position Sunday on the proposed Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

“The EPA believes it is unlikely that the pipeline would impact the Floridan Aquifer… In the event there was a pipeline rupture, the gas would most likely vent to the atmosphere and would not contaminate the underlying groundwater or the Floridan aquifer,” James D. Giattiana, Region 4 director of EPA’s water protection division, wrote to The Valdosta Daily Times.

This reversal is a total shift from an October EPA review which ordered the pipeline be redirected around an aquifer. EPA officials claimed in October the pipeline was a “potential threat to groundwater (and surface waters) resources.” The reversal in the agency’s position occurred due to “calculation issues” and the fact that the aquifer in question was far too large to go around, according to a Dec. 11 letter from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers.

A peer-reviewed study of the pipeline’s economic benefits estimated it would create 5,667 jobs during construction and another 527 permanent jobs. It will also create $754 million in benefits for the states, and cost investors $3.2 billion.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction on the pipeline earlier this month. The pipeline system could be operational by May of 2017.

Environmentalists were less than pleased with the EPA’s change in position, as they broadly oppose pipelines in general, citing concerns about safety and construction distracting attention from reducing carbon emissions to solve global warming. Initial environmental objections to the Sabal Trail pipeline were raised over the “sensitive and vulnerable” karst geology of the region as well as “environmental justice” issues.

Environmentalists even allege the natural gas industry outright bribed the government agency.

“I smell a skunk,” says Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager of The Sierra Club of Florida, speaking to The Valdosta Daily Times. “This sudden 180-degree reversal raises the question of whether the pipeline’s powerful investors pulled political strings to get EPA to back away from the objections it raised a few months ago.”

“This report just shows they are nothing but a lap dog for the natural gas industry and they’ve never seen a pipeline they don’t like,” Steve Caley, legal director for the environmental law firm GreenLaw, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Studies show pipelines are statistically the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas.


(Screen shot FP&L)

The pipeline’s route is shown in the image below in red.

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