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Environmental activists to protest construction of Sabal Trail pipeline

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

While many eyes were turned to Standing Rock as Native Americans and others protested the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, others were fighting a pipeline closer to home.

The Sabal Trail underground pipeline starts in Alabama, crosses Georgia and winds its way down Florida to its endpoint in central Florida. The 515-mile natural gas pipeline is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp., NextEra Energy and Duke Energy. The goal is to bring services for the power generation needs of Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy of Florida by the end of June next year.

It’s a project that Spectra and the others say is safe.

“It is well established that natural gas transmission pipelines are the safest method of transporting energy products, and at Spectra Energy, we have a strong safety record,” the company says on the project’s website. “Over the past five years, the incident rate for Spectra Energy’s United States onshore natural gas pipelines and facilities has been roughly half the rate of the industry average.”

It adds, “Safety is at the forefront of everything we do. Our dedication to continuously improve our operational safety practices stems from our relentless focus on protecting the people within the communities where we operate, our employees and the environment. While we already have a strong safety record, our goal is zero incidents, as no incident is acceptable.”

But environmentalists and others say the hazards are serious and severe. To begin with, said Megan Weeks of Greenpeace St. Petersburg, the pipeline will cut through the Floridan Aquifer. The Floridan supplies drinking water to about 10 million people. A spill or leak or leaching gas would be a catastrophe.

In such a catastrophe, Weeks said, taxpayers would be on the hook for compensating and cleaning up contaminated drinking water.

The concern is real, she said. A similar pipeline spilled 336,000 gallons in Alabama this past summer.

Other concerns include the effect on sensitive conservation areas of the construction of the pipeline. A 50-foot to 100-foot scar will be left in the wake of construction.

That’s why Greenpeace and Sierra Club volunteers are gathering in St. Petersburg, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee and Jacksonville on Thursday to protest the pipeline.

The St. Pete protest is expected to start at 4 p.m. in Williams Park opposite Duke Power. Protestors then plan a short march to banks that are helping fund the project.

The immediate goal of the protests, Weeks said, is to call attention to the pipeline and the potential hazards. The hope is others will add their voices to oppose the pipeline. The ultimate goal is to stop the construction.

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