Timeline: Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline has no permit yet

Spectra, FPL, and Williams have not even formally filed with FERC for pipeline permits yet, and that process usually takes about a year. Permitting confusion benefits Spectra about its Sabal Trail Transmission 36-inch hundred-foot-right-of-way fracked methane pipeline, because people don’t know what they can do. You can file ecomments right now, and show up and protest. As soon as the pipeline company files for the formal permit process, you can file as an intervenor, which gives you legal rights to be heard, file legal briefs, and to appeal. Plus many state and local permits also have to be filed, and people can participate in those processes. Even if there ever is a FERC permit, a landowner who makes the pipeline company actually go through the eminent domain process will very likely get a better deal. If enough landowners say Come and Take It, the whole thing may become uneconomical for Spectra, as for Williams Company when it cancelled the Bluegrass Pipeline in Kentucky.

FERC’s Pre-Filing Process

Spectra and Williams and FPL are currently in the pre-filing process with FERC, which is why the FERC docket numbers are PF14-1 (Spectra and FPL’s Sabal Trail Transmission), PF14-2 (FPL’s Florida Southeast Connection), and PF14-6 (Williams’ Hillabee Expansion Project). That’s PF as in Pre-Filing, which includes contacting landowners, surveying, easement negotiations, and public meetings, including in this case Spectra’s early landowner meetings, the FERC-required Open Houses, and the FERC-hosted Scoping Meetings. But don’t be fooled: the pipeline companies haven’t even started the formal filing process, and they can’t get a FERC permit until the end of that formal process, which usually takes a year.

Also note FERC’s pre-filing process doesn’t say anything about FERC reviewing the need for the pipeline: it only says way up at the top under “Applicant Process” that “Applicant assesses market need and considers Project feasibility”. The pre-filing process is all about environmental review, routing, and trying to get landowners to sign away their rights.

FERC Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Pre-Filing Environmental Review Process

State and Local Permit Processes

Meanwhile, Sabal Trail has filed with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for an air quality permit for its proposed Albany Compressor Station, and has already met encountered objections from Ted Turner’s Nonami Plantation and Greenlaw. And Sabal Trail has filed with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection for water permits related to the Suwannee, Withlacoochee, and Santa Fe Rivers, plus for something vague in Sumter County, Florida. People can object to those and other state and local permits.

FERC Permitting Timeline

FPL’s ratepayers are providing the $3 billion for the Sabal Trail pipeline, and here’s FPL’s

Project Timeline

December 2012: FPL issues RFP for new natural gas infrastructure.
July 2013: FPL selects two companies to build two pipeline systems.
Fall 2013: Sabal Trail and Florida Southeast Connection begin permitting process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Spring 2016: Construction on the two pipeline systems is expected to begin.
May 2017: The two pipeline systems begin delivering natural gas into FPL’s system.

FPL says “Fall 2013” for filing with FERC, which must refer to the pre-filing process. Sabal Trail intends to file formally 31 October 2014, is what Spectra’s Andrea Grover told the Valdosta Daily Times last month.

FPL just assumes FERC will issue a permit and doesn’t say when. Spectra’s own Sabal Trail FAQ has more detail:

File Certificate Application and Federal Permits October 2014
FERC Certificate Issuance November 2015
FERC Notice to Proceed 1st Qtr 2016
Start of Construction 2nd Qtr 2016
In-Service May 1, 2017

FERC’s Formal Permit Process

Here’s FERC’s own flowchart on the formal application process. FERC has issued a notice for an EIS (not an EA) for the combined Southeast Market Pipelines Project, with the same EIS for all three of:
Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC Docket Nos. PF14-1-000
Florida Southeast Connection, LLC PF14-2-000
Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC PF14-6-000.

That’s presumably the EIS currently being drafted by the contractor Merjent that was selected through an RFP and proposals that FERC refuses to release.

FERC’s own rules say FERC must balance need with hazards and economic downsides such as eminent domain. If there’s no need, FERC should deny a permit when it gets to the formal process. So opponents can use the pre-filing process to fortify the obvious case that there’s no need for this pipeline. No need:

Like PSEG’s Caithness II plant on Long Island, New York, the proper conclusion from the facts is there is no need for this pipeline and its permit application should be denied.


Remember, once the pipeline companies file formally with FERC, you can file to intervene.

An intervenor is an official party to a proceeding and enjoys distinct advantages over those who only file comments.

Intervenors have the right to:

  1. Participate in hearings before FERC’s administrative law judges;
  2. File briefs;
  3. File for rehearing of a Commission decision;
  4. Have legal standing in a Court of Appeals if they challenge the Commission’s final decision; and
  5. Be placed on a service list to receive copies of case-related Commission documents and filings by other intervenors.

File quickly, because FERC says:

The Commission expects parties to intervene in a timely manner based on the reasonably foreseeable issues arising from the applicant’s filing and the Commission’s notice of filing.

They don’t say what “timely” means, so within a few days would be prudent.

There are a few downsides to intervention:

An intervenor must serve other parties in the case.

This means that anytime you send correspondence to FERC about a specific case or project, you must also send copies of it to the Applicant and all the intervenors on the Service List. You are obligated to do this no matter how many intervenors are on the Service List, whether it is 10 or 700. Other intervenors also are obligated to do the same to you.

There is no obligation to send copies of correspondence to other intervenors when you are not sending material to FERC.

Sending out multiple copies of a document is a small price to pay for the ability to sit in legal hearings, file briefs, file for a rehearing, and to appeal.

So, the Transco -> Sabal Trail -> FSC fracked methane gouge to the sea where LNG export operations are already approved has not been approved. The pipeline hasn’t even filed for the formal permitting process yet. And you can intervene when it does. Plus you can comment or object in numerous state and local proceedings.

If enough of us object, and if enough state legislators join the opposition, as Florida Rep. Linda Stewart has, and if enough national legislators or candidates speak up, as Marihelen Wheeler, running for FL-03 has, this pipeline project may become too expensive, and the pipeline companies, or FPL, or their investors, may just call the whole thing off. Like Georgians at Fort Morris in 1778; like the Spartans at Thermopylae; we can say no to this invasion for remote corporate profit.

It’s not just landowners who can say Come and Take It!


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