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Withlacoochee River Near Valdosta, Site of a Recent Sabal Trail PIpeline Spill

Boom Around the Spill on the Withlacoochee Near Valdosta

Boom Around the Spill on the Withlacoochee Near Valdosta

On November 16, 2016, I traveled to Georgia to the US 84 bridge that crosses the Withlacoochee River to attend a press hearing hosted by the WWALS Watershed Coalition (Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little, and Upper Suwanee River watersheds).  The press hearing was in response to Sabal Trail's making  the Georgia Water Coalition's Dirty Dozen List for the third year in a row.  After the list was announced by the coalition, via a miked broadcast, WWALs President John Quarterman led us on a hike along the edge of the river to the site of the recent drill mud leak.  This leak happened in October and Quarterman discovered it by flying over the river.  A Sabal Trail spokesperson said the spill was inadvertent and only contained a mixture of bentonite clay and water.  Though this leak was not highly toxic, clay reduces oxygen in the water and can threaten the health of fish and other species, and it is a harringer of what we can expect in the future if the pipeline's construction is completed..

Withlacoochee Shoals, Gerogia

Withlacoochee Shoals, Gerogia

When I walked down to the river, I was struck by the karst geology on the river bed itself.  I was told this is the way it is all the way through and that there is a large cave system here, similar to the one in North Florida.  There was not even a layer of sand on the bottom, just these formations dotted with holes. With geology like this the risk of leaks entering the aquifer is quite high.

Boom with the Shoals Beyond

Boom with the Shoals Beyond

This image shows how close the boom is to the shoals in the preceding image.  Until a few days ago, a bright green color was evident in the water and drill mud was seen coming out as recently as six days ago.  Some of the green color Quarterman observed may have been from the algae caused by nitrogen pollution from farming operations in the area, However after the leak was first observed until recently, the liquid within the boom was much greener than the surrounding water. John Quarterman did not know what was turning it this color.  The company is not doing any water testing.

Oil Sheen by the Boom

Oil Sheen by the Boom

Near the boom, I spotted areas with unnatural oil sheen in many places.  The images above and below were right by the boom.

Oil and Leaves

Oil and Leaves

Oil, Leaves and Vegetation

Oil, Leaves and Vegetation

The image above was down a short way from the boom, a little closer to where the shoals were.  As we walked back, I did not see any other oil along the riverbank, so it could very well be associated with the drilling of the pipeline.  If this is true, it also shows how easy it is for the substances that leak to escape from the confines of the boom and into the rest of the water supply.  

WWALS Press Meeting

WWALS Press Meeting

In attendance at the press meeting were two young mothers with their babies who live near where the pipeline, which will be carrying gas from as far away as Pennsylvania, will be passing through.  These women were there to protest the risk of infiltration of poisoned water into their wells. There were also representatives from Rethink Energy Florida, John S. Quarterman and his wife Gretchen and another member of WWALS, Gregory Payne and Debra Johnson (Co-Founders of Sacred Water Camp in Florida) and Merrille Malwitiz-Jipson of the Sierra Club.  Sabal Trail representatives said in September when questioned about the pipeline that it would be safe and there would be no risk of leaks.  (http://www.chronicleonline.com/content/gas-pipeline-will-be-safe-efficient.  The group gathered to raise awareness that leaks can and do happen and that the Floridan aquifer that supplies water to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Florida is at risk. If people don't agree to sell their property, eminent domain suits are filed against them. The Georgia Water Coalition's press release stated the following: 

Whether the Sabal Trail pipeline is built or not, eminent domain reform is needed at the federal level. Georgia legislators should introduce and adopt a resolution urging Georgia’s congressional delegation to reform the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues licenses for gas pipelines to provide greater protections for landowners. The fate of Georgians’ property and their water and land resources should not be left to the whims of out-of-state power utilities and gas line operators.

Horizontal Directional Drilling Site Near Valdosta

Horizontal Directional Drilling Site Near Valdosta

We went to a nearby HDD site before we left Georgia.  The energy companies behind  Sabal Trail want to complete the project by 2017, but there are lawsuits being brought against the company by the Sierra Club, the Flint and Chattahoochee Riverkeepers, and other environmental groups.  I find it ironic that there is always an American Flag flying at every drilling site or large energy complex I have visited. When I see them, I feel as if they are there to proclaim that oil and gas are the epitome of the American Dream, when in fact these pipelines can quickly turn our dreams into nightmares when they leak, destroying water, ecosystems, and creatures as the Tar Sands spill in Kalamazoo taught us.  The image above shows how much land they feel is necessary to clearcut for a 36 inch pipe. 

Water Truck at the HDD Site

Water Truck at the HDD Site

Besides the issue of potentially poisoning many of the 10 million people who rely on the Floridan Aquifer for drinking water, pipelines require a huge amount of water for their drilling operations.  We were only at the site for 5 or 10 minutes and we saw multiple water transport trucks coming and going.  

Water Transport Truck Arriving

Water Transport Truck Arriving

Where are this water is coming from is an issue that needs to be closely monitored, and we should also know how much water is being withdrawn.  It does not make environmental sense to engage in drilling practices that require the usage of so much water, when we are facing a water crisis caused by diminishing resources.  Then of course there is the issue of toxic pollution and the potential collapse of cave systems mentioned before.

Marshland Near an HDD Site 

Marshland Near an HDD Site 

This marshland is very near the HDD site above.  There was only the road and a house between the drilling site and this marsh.  In addition to the risk of spills, there is also the risk of explosions once natural gas passes through the pipelines.  The destruction caused by HDD site and the potential for even greater devastation after the pipeline is installed and operating is of great concern to environmentalists and more and more people when they learn about the risks associated with the Sabal Trail Pipeline.  There are peaceful protests in Florida on an almost daly basis now and the locations of these protests is listed here::(https://www.facebook.com/ProtectFAST/?)hc_location=ufi)