Fracking not an issue with pipeline for FPL’s plants, firms say

Federal regulators charged with permitting a $3.5 billion 591-mile natural gas pipeline that would extend from Alabama to Martin County don’t have to consider the environmental impact of fracking, the companies that want to build the pipeline say.

In documents filed Friday and Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, officials for both Southeast Connection and Sabal Trail said the impacts of natural gas production, such as exploration, drilling and processing are not generally considered by FERC. The pipeline will use both “fracked” gas from shale as well as offshore sources.

FERC guidelines state it will approve a project “where the public benefits outweigh the project’s adverse impacts.”

Those who oppose the project, including SpectraBusters, which represents thousands of people in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, say the pipeline will increase the amount of fracked gas coming into Florida and say the pipeline is not necessary.

Natural gas is obtained from shale through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” In recent years fracking has been linked to groundwater pollution due to the sand, water and chemicals injected into the shale to obtain oil and gas.

John Quarterman, a SpectraBusters board member, said Monday “FPL knows fracking is a big issue and wants to avoid it.”

Last year Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light Co. proposed the pipeline to supply more natural gas to its South Florida plants. Plans call for the pipeline to be operational by May 2017, but the project is in the midst of a lengthy approval process.

Florida Southeast Connection comprises 127 miles of the pipeline from Central Florida to FPL’s Martin County plant. FSC is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, which is also FPL’s parent company.

In July FPL announced it had selected Spectra Energy Corp., a Houston-based Fortune 500 company, to build the pipeline’s 465-mile northern stretch from Alabama to Central Florida. That portion known as Sabal Trail.

Opponents have also raised the issue greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas.

Marian Ryan, the Sierra Club of Florida’s conservation chair, said, “Our three state chapters are adamantly opposed to it. We need to move away from petroleum and gas. Fossil fuels are finite. We have got to move forward with alternative energy.”

Charles Lee, Audubon Florida’s advocacy director, said Audubon’s focus has been on the proposed route which cuts across important tracts of conservation lands such as the Green Swamp area in Sumter, Polk and Lake counties.

“The pipeline appears that some engineer in a dark room somewhere got out a bunch of maps and drew a pencil line in a diagonal across the land without taking a particular look at what that pencil line is crossing,” Lee said.

However, Audubon has generally been sympathetic to natural gas as the cleanest possible fossil fuel, much preferred over coal and oil, Lee said.

Florida Southeast Connection attorney William Lavarco said in the FERC filing that the agency is not required to expand its review to determine the best way to meet the demand for energy.

FPL has entered into binding contracts with Florida Southeast Connection and Sabal Trail. In October the Florida Public Service Commission determined there is a need for the proposed pipeline, which would be the state’s third major pipeline.

The commenters are asking that the commission “second guess” the PSC, Lavarco said.

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