Sabal Trail could become Florida’s own Dakota Access Pipeline problem

Environmentalists and indigenous groups in the U.S. got a break Sunday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paused construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a super contentious crude oil pipeline in the Midwest.

If it follows its current path, the pipeline will cut through sacred Native American land. Plus, if it ever breaks, the oil would contaminate the Sioux tribe’s primary drinking water source. The protests against the pipeline at Standing Rock made national news after the Sioux tribe protested for months against the pipeline’s construction, which if completed would be a half-a-mile away from their reservation.

But the Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t the only pipeline in America – there are 2.5 million miles of natural gas and oil pipelines buried deep in U.S. soil. And it’s not the only one causing controversy. One is cutting right through our backyard. You might have heard of it: The Sabal Trail Transmission Pipeline.

As of Thursday, more than 3,700 people had signed a petition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline. It’s being led by Tim Canova, who lost his bid against Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for the Democratic nomination in August.

[Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the Dakota Access Pipeline was a natural gas pipeline. It is a crude oil pipeline.]

The Sabal Trail Pipeline

Who owns it? The Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC is made up of Spectra Energy Corp. NextEra Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy.

When did construction start? In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott signed two bills that would fast track the construction of the pipeline. (Scott, by the way, is a stakeholder in Spectra Energy Corp., according to The Miami Herald.) In August of this year the Sabal Trail Transmission LLC cleared the final hurdles for construction, and building began in Georgia in September.

Where does it run? It starts in Alabama, runs through Georgia, and ends in Central Florida. Most of the pipeline —268 miles of the 515 miles — cuts through Florida (It was actually named after Florida’s state tree)

Why am I just hearing about it now? It was just a lot of paperwork before. Construction only started a few months ago in Georgia. Also, protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline brought the Sabal Trail Pipeline to the forefront.

Who wants it? FPL and Duke Energy say it will help them provide energy to homes.

Who doesn’t want it? Environmentalists and some Native American leaders say it threatens Florida’s water supply. If it ever bursts, it could contaminate the Floridian Aquifer or into Florida’s many freshwater springs.

“It will run right by the Crystal River, a crucial sanctuary for endangered manatees, and the Suwannee River, also home to several endangered species. Not only that, but the pipeline’s construction could also damage the fragile limestone which surrounds the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world,” Canova writes in the petition. 

Others warn that Florida and parts of Georgia are prone to sinkholes, and this construction might cause one. Yet others say it the construction has already damaged their private property. Some property owners are angry because their land has been seized for the pipeline under eminent domain (which gives the government the right to seize land for public use with compensation) – 25 properties in Central Florida and 125 throughout the southeast, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Do we need it? Supporters say the pipeline is necessary to continue powering homes and businesses in the southeast. But opponents say we should be focused on infrastructure for renewable energy, not fossil fuels.

Almost 2,000 miles away, there’s been a huge showdown over the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline carrying crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

While the Dakota Access Pipeline is already 60 percent complete, construction on the Sabal Trail Pipeline is just beginning. Both projects are being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and much of the contention in both cases surround the tensions between energy production and consumption versus property rights and protection of the environment.

The Dakota Access Pipeline

Why do we need it? If the crude oil doesn’t travel through this pipeline, it will have to travel on the backs of trucks on the highway, which is less efficient.

When did it start? In December 2014, Energy Transfer Partners LP (the company behind the pipeline) applied to build the pipeline. Because it travels through four states, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, all four states have to approve it, plus any Native American tribes whose land it affects. There was a lot of back and forth between the preservation office and the Army Corps — the preservation office urged the Army Corps to conduct a full archaeological investigation which the Corps essentially ignored, Mother Jones reports.

In Dec. 2015, the Corps published an environmental impact statement saying the construction didn’t impact any “tribally significant sites.” But the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Interior, and the American Council on Historical Preservation (ACHP) said the Corps didn’t do their homework, according to Mother Jones.

After Iowa approved construction in March 2016, the Army Corps fast-tracked a permit in July of this year. Construction began and at this point it is roughly 60 percent complete.

Who is against it? By August, the Standing Rock Sioux’s began protesting and blocking construction. They say a complete environmental assessment has not been done and the construction is too close to their drinking water, so a spill could poison it. As planned, it comes within half a mile of their reservation. Construction would also require the bulldozing of sacred burial grounds. Some have already been destroyed.

Opponents to rerouting or discontinuing the pipeline say: Enough concessions have been made. Because the land isn’t owned by the Sioux Tribe, they can’t legally stop construction. In terms of spillage, the pipeline has automatic shut-off valves which would close in the case of an emergency. Plus, they say it’s needed to make the U.S. completely energy dependent.

On Sunday, President Obama halted further construction of the pipeline and told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look for alternative routes. But the fight is hardly over for the Sioux — the Corps has actually halted construction several times in the past and looked for alternate routes, only to resume construction on the route on the books.

Obama’s directive could expire when Donald Trump takes office (who, by the way, owns stock in the company that is building the pipeline and has said he supports continuing it on its original route).

Anything else you want to know about this? Let us know.