VALDOSTA — The proposed Sabal Trail Pipeline made the Georgia Water Coalition’s Dirty Dozen list for the second consecutive year.
The proposed pipeline made the list for its path through sinkhole-prone regions in Georgia and Florida, including Lowndes County.
John Quarterman, WWALS Watershed Coalition president, said there is some hope for opponents of the pipeline, in the form of a strong letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will have the final say on construction of the pipeline.
“We got a federal agency actually doing its job, and I don’t mean FERC, I’m talking about the EPA,” Quarterman said. “They filed an amazing letter that validates pretty much everything the opposition’s been saying about this pipeline.”
Last week, the EPA recommended the pipeline be redirected away from the Floridan Aquifer, citing potential sinkholes and harmful effects to groundwater.
If the redirect is performed, the pipeline would be moved away from Lowndes County.
Quarterman said his WWALS group, which serves as an advocate for the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little and Upper Suwannee rivers, is in a legal fight with the pipeline in Jasper, Fla., and is requesting the judge in that case enter the letter from the EPA as evidence.
Quarterman cited the proposed route for the pipeline, which he said was in the same area as a spring near the Shiloh, Snake Nation, and Shadrick sinkholes, the last of which leaks into the Floridan Aquifer, Quarterman said.
“If they drill that under the Withlacoochee, it could cause more leaks which could cause — well, it’s hard to tell,” Quarterman said. “It could affect other people’s wells, it could affect Valdosta’s wells.”
The Georgia General Assembly as well as the Georgia Environmental Protection Division could stop the pipeline, according to the GWC. The EPD could halt the pipeline by denying state water and air permits, and the General Assembly could vote to not allow drilling under the Chattahoochee, Flint and Withlacoochee rivers.
Andrea Grover, director of stakeholder outreach of Sabal Trail, said there was misinformation being passed along regarding sinkholes and groundwater.
“The pipeline will not contaminate water or aquifers,” Grover said. “The pipeline will be made of high-strength steel with epoxy coating, and the natural gas is transported in a gaseous state. Natural gas is lighter than air which means in the highly unlikely event that natural gas escapes from the pipeline, the gas can only travel up through the soil or water into the atmosphere, where it dissipates.”
Grover said the pipeline will be buried 30 feet below the bed of major rivers, and three to four feet below the surface when moving through land.
Grover said the draft environmental impact statement, put out by FERC, indicated the pipeline would not significantly impact karst terrain, springs or the Floridan Aquifer.
Karst terrain is terrain prone to sinkholes.
“Sabal Trail has diligently assessed these geological areas near the pipeline route through research, surveys, and geological studies,” Grover said. “We have employed local experts to ensure we have the best information to determine the location and design of the pipeline.”
The Sabal Trail Pipeline is a proposed pipeline that would run through three states and possibly through Lowndes County.
Residents along the route, including in Lowndes, have filed complaints against the pipeline, citing concerns with property rights and with the environment.
Joe Adgie is a reporter for the Valdosta Daily Times.