Natural Gas is Going Down Like Coal and Kodak: Let the Sun Rise!

The Sabal Trail Pipeline admitted this month to still more sinkholes: one at the Santa Fe River, two at the Suwannee River, one near the Suwannee’s tributary the WIthlacoochee (north) River, and five at the Flint River in Georgia. These are just the ones they had not already been “remediated” by dumping timbers and dirt in them. And it’s not counting the two previous sinkholes by the Santa Fe, the two in public roads in Florida, the sinkhole by the Withlacoochee River in Georgia, and the frac-out of drilling mud from Sabal Trail’s pilot hole into that river. Sabal Trail risks our biggest asset, the Floridan Aquifer, the source of 60 percent of the state’s drinking water, on which everything else depends in Florida and south Georgia: wildlife, recreation, industry, and our very lives. Do we think sinkholes will stop even if they finish construction?

All this despite Sabal Trail and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) telling us under oath in WWALS vs. Sabal Trail & FDEP in October 2015 that there was no significant risk to our rivers. What they said would not happen is happening.

Then there is the massive erosion of Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy’s world-record-winning soybean fields, and all the other farmland and forests devastated by the Sabal Trail Pipeline. As Randy Dowdy said:

“We’ve got loss of production for the future that will take not my lifetime, not my kids’ lifetime, but my kids’ kids’ lifetime to recover from.”

This pipeline risks Georgia’s biggest industry of agriculture and Florida’s: tourism. And for what? For profits for Florida Power & Light (FP&L), for Duke Energy of Charlotte, North Carolina, for Spectra Energy from Houston, Texas, and for Spectra’s new owner Enbridge of Alberta, Canada. They continue to gouge their unnecessary, destructive, and hazardous 36-inch wide Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline on its 100-foot wide right of way under our rivers, through our wetlands and fields, and past our homes, schools, and businesses.

Florida Power & Light’s 2013 excuse that Florida supposedly needed more electricity was contradicted by FP&L’s own 2016 Ten Year Plan which says in boldface right in the Executive Summary:

“Difference: FPL does not project a significant long-term additional resource need until the years 2024 and 2025.”

Meanwhile, the solar industry already provides more new energy jobs than coal, oil, and gas combined. Solar provided more new U.S. electricity in 2016 than any other power source. We know how to convert everything to sun, wind, and water power by 2050, and we’re on track to get there. We have a winner, and it’s the sun.

Solar power can even help reduce the agricultural runoff that is fouling our springs and rivers, by converting marginal farmland to profitable solar production. A fraction of a percent of the land area of Suwannee County could produce enough solar power (much of it on rooftops) to shut down the remaining natural gas turbines at Duke’s Suwannee Power Plant. Half the acreage of Sabal Trail’s right of way could produce just as much electricity through solar panels, with local jobs in planning, delivery, and installation, not one-time pipeline jobs for people from somewhere else.

Even Duke and FP&L are installing solar farms in Florida. Maybe they read the 2013 report from their own utility industry think-tank, Edison Electric, which warned them of “irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects” if they didn’t get on with solar power.

Divest! It worked for tobacco and apartheid, and it’s working  even faster for fossil fuels. It’s not so much about direct reduction of investment as about making it socially unacceptable to buy from stigmatized companies. Two Norwegian companies, bank DNB and Odin Fund Management, already divested from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and U.S. Bank has stopped pipeline project financing. U.S. Bank hasn’t stopped investing in pipeline companies yet, so there’s still work to be done. All the other banks and funds that invest in DAPL and Sabal Trail: Divest Now!

I applaud Tim Canova for organizing a forum Tuesday evening, May 23rd in South Florida, where much of Sabal Trail’s fracked methane is headed for export. Sabal Trail was a boondoggle from the beginning, all about creating markets for a glut of Marcellus Shale fracked gas down a pipeline chain from Pennsylvania, including through export from Florida overseas, where prices can be five times higher.

Divest and make renewable energy an issue in every political campaign, take eminent domain for private companies out of the Natural Gas Act: there are many things you can do.

There is no reason any of us should risk our lands, water, or safety for utility and fossil fuel company profit.

Business models change as fast as cameras became digital and Kodak went under.

As fast as the Internet and personal computers rose.

As fast as mobile phones spread and even faster smartphones are everywhere.

As fast as big coal companies went from kings to a tenth of their market cap.

Natural gas is going down next.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Let the sun rise!

John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., is the WATERKEEPER® Alliance Member for the Suwannee River
and its tributaries the Withlacoochee, Little, Willacoochee, and Alapaha Rivers.
WWALS is a member of Georgia River Network, Georgia Water Coalition,
Florida Springs Council, Floridians Against Fracking,
and national River Network.
229-242-0102, 850-290-2350,,
PO Box 88, Hahira, GA 31632

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