Resisting the Sabal Trail Pipeline, and Protecting Our Water


By Robin Haines Merrill & Panagioti Tsolkas

Think about your Aquifer. Think about your drinking water.

How many people do you know are aware that a pipeline containing fracked gas has just been built around the pristine Springs of Florida? Or that the pipeline was placed underneath the historic Suwannee River? How many people know where their water comes from when they turn on the tap?

Sixty percent of South Florida’s drinking water supply comes from the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which is now at risk from the recently completed Sabal Trail Pipeline. Barely a month ago, methane gas started to flow in a portion of this 500-mile pipeline. Under the Florida Governor Rick Scott, who owns a large share of stock in the energy company that is building the pipeline, this colossal tri-state exploit has been fast-tracked and protected by taxpayer-funded police officers. The construction has ripped out wetlands, wildlife habit, killed thousands of trees and apparently has created sinkholes along the way. Discarded hazardous drilling mud and leaking diesel fuel have already tainted the land and invaded the waters.

The Sierra Club reports that over 700 bodies of water in Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been affected by the construction of this pipeline. Watershed protectors and Riverkeepers have been working overtime tending to the details of the pollution.

Put the word “natural” in front of gas, and it seems the general population is easily duped into believing that this is “clean energy” as touted by our so-called Public Utilities. Yet, by voting for Solar initiatives, Florida voters have overwhelmingly declared their desire for freedom from a future of fossil fuel dependence. Perhaps our next set of politicians can help stop the flow of gas in this pipeline and put solar panels along the pipeline instead, allowing us true energy independence while respecting and safeguarding our lands and waters.

Pipelines aren’t new to Florida. But what makes this “Sinkhole Pipeline” uniquely dangerous is that it transports hazardous materials in, around and through Florida’s most important resource: Water. And the gas being transported through the pipeline isn’t even necessary for Floridians’ use. Instead, the gas pumped through the Sabal Trail pipeline will likely be exported for private, commercial profit. Dangerous liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals are in the works for ports in South Florida. Florida’s safety regulations are questionable, so don’t count on state regulators to protect us from the very real dangers to our communities posed by LNG facilities.

Our land is simply being used as a route to pump a billion cubic feet of natural gas a day, while endangering wildlife and our basic human rights to safe drinking water. Over 170 eminent domain lawsuits were issued to access private property to build this pipeline, with a 75-100 foot wide destructive footprint.  Family gravesites were not exempt.  Most residents  were never informed or asked to weigh in on a dangerous, potentially leaky methane gas line installed virtually in their backyards. As played out in the tragic case of Porter Ranch, California, methane gas can be leaking from pipelines near residents for long periods of time before anyone in charge becomes aware of the leaks or damage. ( Aliso_Canyon_gas_leak). The Porter Ranch gas leak is now considered “the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history” — rivaling the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Do we want to take the same chance with our lives, our land, and our water supply in Florida?

Unfortunately a death has occurred at the hands of our police, when a U.S. veteran from Everglades City decided to shoot at the pipeline and machinery with his firearm. Jim Marker was killed by police when he fled the scene. The overwhelming majority of protestors have been non-violent, but insistent. Situated in camps and in organized responses such as the Sabal Trail Resistance, they have brought awareness to this situation at their own personal expense. To date, thirty individuals have been arrested for various actions such as locking themselves to equipment at the pipeline construction areas. A few of the frivolous arrests, such as for trespass, have already been overturned, while others are still pending. Legal funds for the water protectors have been raised via donations through Our Santa Fe River, a non-profit organization in Central Florida. A variety of Facebook pages and closed community support groups online have helped share information and keep current the flow of information, photos and videos.  

Grassroots activists have set up Sacred Water Camps and protesters have gathered at various points along the path of the pipeline. These caring and courageous citizens have gone out of their way at great personal sacrifice and even put their lives in danger by staying on the front lines in remote areas to film and document the violations of environmental protections.

But we all need to spread the word. People must be made keenly aware of these growing threats to our environment — to our very drinking water.

And we need politicians, elected officials, and courts to take action now. While a growing number of counties and cities in Florida have voted to ban fracking, we also need to have laws regarding the transporting of fracked gas across our state, due to the  danger of liquified gas. Bills to ban fracking in Florida have received bipartisan support in the Florida House and Senate. Tim Canova, who is running for Congress in District 23, has spent the past year researching and speaking out specifically about the Sabal Trail Pipeline. He has personally visited camps and protests, organized forums on the pipeline, and has taken an active role in bringing media attention to this all-important issue of water protection in the state of Florida. It will take voters to elect officials like Tim who will painstakingly care for our critical resources and keep the concerns of people over profits.

Think about your Aquifer. Florida is built on porous limestone, not hard rock or granite. The bedrock crumbles and cannot be reconstructed. It serves as a natural filter for our water. It is fragile and unique. The sheet of water that flows down the state of Florida passes through the Everglades and subterranean rivers and springs, providing us with our drinking and tap water. One thousand people per day are added to our numbers here in the Sunshine State. Unless we take major steps to protect our natural resources and move away from deadly fossil fuels, the future won’t be so sunny for us.

Water is a free gift that came with the earth, but we must safeguard its health for our future.


(Left picture) Robin Haines Merrill (right) standing at the Everglades. (Right picture) Panagioti Tsolkas (right) speaking to a crowd about the dangers of the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

Robin Haines Merrill is an Artist and Designer who is currently working with the City of Fort Lauderdale on a series of Painted Intersections near the beach which feature Aquifers. Her concept helps people realize that there is precious water running right beneath their feet.
Robin is Founder and Executive Director of the Christian Cultural Development Foundation and lived for 15 years in the Philippines as a missionary focused on social justice issues. She oversees a global artists collective at the Upper Room Art Gallery, which includes the Tribal Art Project, and is a Miami Knight Art grant winner.

Panagioti Tsolkas is an organizer with Earth First! and Sabal Trail Resistance. He is a former editor of the Earth First! Journal and has traveled internationally to give talks and trainings on environmental direct action movements. Tsolkas is also a co-founder of the Prison Ecology Project, which looks at environmental justice issues that intersect with criminal justice and mass incarceration, and is currently in the process of forming a non-profit called Anti-Stasis, the word meaning ‘resistance’ in Greek, to serve as a movement hub for grassroots organizing around issues of environmental racism and corporate greed.

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