The battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota garnered major headlines last year as protesters gathered to stop the oil pipeline from endangering the water source of sacred tribal land. But in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, there is something happening that’s eerily similar to DAPL. It’s called the Sabal Trail Pipeline, and activists say it’s just as threatening.
Instead of oil, the Sabal Trail Pipeline is slated to carry natural gas across three states. The bulk of the 515-mile pipeline will run through Florida, spanning 260-plus miles in the state alone in areas that have a high number of minority residents. The pipeline crosses Reedy Creek near Disney World and runs along Lake Kissimmee. The 2015 census data shows that over 60 percent of Kissimmee residents are black or Hispanic and have a household median income of $37,000, which is below the national average. Census data also shows that almost 27 percent of residents in that area are living in poverty.
Nearly 1,000 acres in wetlands across the three states will be affected by the project.
Even though the pipeline is not yet completed, it has already started to have an impact. Last month the installation of the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Kissimmee, Fla., in Osceola County caused sinkholes to open above the pipeline, causing damage to cars and nearby property. This is occurring before any gas has been transported through it.
While pipelines may be necessary to transport oil and gas, they can be harmful to the environment and residents surrounding them. A Wall Street Journal review found that there were 1,400 pipeline spills and accidents in the United States between 2010 and 2013. According to the Journal, 4 in every 5 pipeline accidents are discovered by local residents, not by the companies that own the pipelines.
The Sabal Trail Pipeline is a project spearheaded by Florida Power and Light, which is the parent company of NextEra, Duke and Spectra Energy. Set to carry a billion cubic feet of gas per day, the pipeline is meeting resistance by community leaders and activists.
Those who oppose the pipeline believe that it is not necessary in Florida and that the state should rely more on solar-generated energy. Adam Woodhall, president-elect of the Central Florida Progressive Caucus, drafted and presented a resolution that would call for elected officials and residents to take part in stopping the pipeline. Woodhall’s resolution was recently passed by the Orange County and Osceola County Democratic Executive Committees in Central Florida. “I wanted to bring to light, to local residents, the dangers of having a pipeline run through their backyards,” Woodhall said.
Construction has already started, and some parts of the pipeline are already completed. According to a statement released by Spectra Energy, the project is expected to be operational by May of this year.
But if it isn’t completed on time, the company may lose a $200 million bond, putting its financial investment at stake by not meeting the demands of the project in a timely manner. It may also provide a window for activists and community leaders to stop the pipeline.
“I will be taking rigorous actions to create more awareness in my community. It’s right in my backyard and I am very concerned for its harmful affects,” said state Committeewoman Sama Nuzuma of the Osceola County Democratic Executive Committee. “I will be knocking on all of our elected officials’ doors for it to stop. They have already started the construction, but I do believe that it’s never too late to stand for what’s right.”
Osceola County resident Aimee Imami, who opposes the pipeline, expressed concern about the pipeline’s possible harmful effect on children and the environment.
“It is being constructed near our precious bodies of water in the north of Florida and has the potential to impact our Florida aquifer. Here in Osceola County, it is built next to schools and communities,” Imami said. “The fracking involved in this will cause our porous Florida land, which is already prone to sinkholes, to only get worse and has the potential to cause earthquakes.”
State Sen. Dana Young (R-Tampa) recently filed a bill with bipartisan support to ban all fracking in Florida. This bill will be considered during the legislative session that starts this week. If passed, it could have an impact on the construction of the Sabal Trail Pipeline.
Currently, resolutions against the Sabal Trail pipeline are being drafted in other affected counties.
“It doesn’t bring jobs. It doesn’t bring money into the local economy,” Woodhall said. “It destroys the environment for the sake of profits, over the health of the people. The absolute last thing I want to happen was Central Florida becoming the next Flint, Mich. I did not want it to be ‘our turn’ to participate in an environmental disaster.”