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Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship

Four environmental stewards receive the 2018 Community Sentinel Award

WASHINGTON, DC – As oil and gas representatives descend on Pittsburgh this week for the annual Shale Insight conference, four advocates working to protect their communities from the harms of oil and gas development have been selected to receive the 2018 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, coordinated by FracTracker Alliance:

  • Ellen Gerhart – Pennsylvania
  • Natasha Léger – Colorado
  • Rebecca Roter – Pennsylvania, now Georgia
  • Youth award: Nalleli Cobo – California

This year’s recipients have founded grassroots organizations to protect communities from nearby drilling, paired traditional advocacy with scientific savvy, protested pipelines on land taken by eminent domain, and organized to stop urban drilling despite persistent health problems related to the drilling activity.

“The impacts of the oil and gas industry are visible across the United States, but hope abounds in the volunteers working in their communities and cherished places to document, report, and confront fossil fuel harms,” remarked Brook Lenker, Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance. “We are proud to honor Ellen, Natasha, Rebecca, and Nalleli this year, whose noble actions exemplify the transformative power of caring, committed, and engaged people.”

These four steadfast advocates were nominated by peers and selected by a committee of community defense leaders: Raina Rippel of Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (Pennsylvania); Dan Shaffer of Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance and Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (Virginia); Dan Xie of Student PIRG (Florida); Jill Hunkler- Native American activist (Ohio); and Elena Sorokina of Crude Accountability (Washington, DC).

The award recipients will each receive $1,000 for their efforts and be recognized at an evening reception at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Monday, November 26, 2018. The reception will also recognize heroes of the movement who recently passed away. Purchase tickets ($40).

This year’s major Community Sentinel sponsors include 11th Hour Project, The Heinz Endowments, and Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. Award partners (to date) include Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, Breathe Project, Center for Coalfield Justice, Crude Accountability, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Halt the Harm Network, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Pipeline and Property Rights Center, Save the Hills Alliance, Sierra Club, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, and Viable Industries. View current sponsors and partners.

To learn more about the fourth annual Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship and to purchase tickets to the reception on November 26th, please visit: fractracker.org/sentinel-award.

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About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance is a national non-profit with regional offices in California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington DC. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Learn more at fractracker.org.

Press Contact
For Release on October 24, 2018
Samantha Rubright
malone@fractracker.org (preferred)
(202) 630-6426

Sabal Pipeline Map

The Sabal Trail Pipeline: A Sinking Feeling

Construction is underway for a $3.2 billion, 515-mile-long interstate gas pipeline, running from central Alabama, through southwestern Georgia, and deep into Central Florida. The Sabal Trail Pipeline is a project of Duke Energy, NextEra Energy, and Spectra Energy. Spectra is the fossil fuel corporation responsible for other controversial pipelines also under construction – notably the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project. AIM, the target of ongoing protests in the Hudson Valley (NY) and elsewhere, would run from central New Jersey to ports in the Boston, MA area, passing within a few hundred feet of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River.

The Sabal Trail project is touted by Spectra to be crucial to aiding economic development along its route, and fueling gas-fired power generators in the Southeast United States. Environmentalists, however, view the project quite differently. Such development plans rarely come without a cost to communities, and to the environment.

A Unique Geology

Reflecting its geological origins as part of a shallow ancient ocean, the southeastern United States is underlain by porous limestone bedrock, known as karst. Water running through the karst bedrock flows not only through small pores, but often through extensive underground caves. When under under pressure, water can bubble up to the surface in a multitude of freshwater springs throughout the region. It’s not hard to imagine how contamination to the limestone aquifer in one area can spread rapidly and widely.

The karst bedrock, due to the sometimes large voids in its structure, is also prone to the formation of sinkholes, some of which are small; others are large enough to swallow whole buildings. Recognizing these risks, opponents of the Sabal Trail pipeline frequently cite the inherent danger of pipelines bending and rupturing should the ground beneath them give way, leading to potentially dangerous gas leakages or explosions.

One piece of recent research from the University of Georgia maps the prevalence of sinkholes in Doughterty County, GA, one of the many counties the Sabal Trail pipeline would pass through.  For reference, FracTracker has added the path of the pipeline to the Dougherty County map, above.

In the interactive map below, we show the full proposed pipeline route and associated compressor stations. Karst geology, documented sinkholes, and springs near the route of the pipeline are also shown. The double-arrows in the upper right corner of the map will launch a full-screen view of the map, including a map legend. Use the “Layers” dropdown along the top bar of that map to turn on locations of nearby schools and hospitals that could be impacted by a nearby pipeline emergency. In addition, a “Bookmarks” dropdown menu along the same top bar that will allow zooming to locations along the pipeline mentioned in this article.

Map of the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline route, karst geology, and known sinkholes

View map full screen | How FracTracker maps work

Growing Opposition

In October 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a scathing letter detailing the impacts that the proposed pipeline would have on the Floridan Aquifer, water quality, and ecology in this region of sensitive karst geology. Two months later, however, in mid-December, the EPA suddenly reversed its position. While reasons included an endorsement of industry’s choices to avoid “many of the most sensitive areas” that could be impacted, ABC News has suggested that political favoritism could have played a role, as well.  This video, published on November 24, 2016 by ABC/FirstCoast News, describes that situation, and also includes excellent footage of construction impacts.

Currently, the construction is proceeding. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has granted eminent domain to industry to build the project through seized private property. Although all federal permits for the pipeline construction are in place, a joint lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and Flint Riverkeeper has challenged that permitting process. There is opposition to the pipeline in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida–the three states in which construction is occurring.

The video clips below documents the noise associated with the pipeline’s construction, as well as views of the sinkhole terrain along its route.

Sabal Trail gas pipeline noise pollution at the Santa Fe River (Nov. 25, 2016).
Credit: Merrillee on Vimeo.

Sabal Trail gas transmission, at O’Brien (Hildreth) Compressor Station in Northern Florida.
Credit: Merrillee on Vimeo.

Water Protectors

As winter descends on the northern Plains, thousands of indigenous people representing hundreds of tribes, as well as non-Native allies, have gathered in camps near the Sioux Standing Rock Reservation to pray and protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which would drill an oil pipeline through sacred Native lands and under the Missouri River. Participants in this movement are united by the words “Water Is Life” (Mni Wiconi), in recognition of the threats that an oil spill would present to their homeland and the source of drinking water for the tribe. Hundreds of arrests of peaceful protesters have been made there in recent months, many resulting in serious injuries to the protesters as water cannons, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and attack dogs have been used in efforts to intimidate the activists.

Coordination among First Nations groups against other fossil fuel infrastructure is happening elsewhere, too. For example, in September 2016, at least fifty US and Canadian aboriginal groups signed a treaty, saying they will work together to fight proposals that would bring crude oil from the Alberta tar sands via pipeline, tanker, and rail.

The protests against the Sabal Trail Project are similarly themed to those at Standing Rock, but have not resulted in violence towards protesters thus far. Along the Suwanee River in Florida, peaceful protesters have assembled at the Sacred Waters encampment and, on November 12, 2016, faced off with authorities in an effort to stop pipeline drilling under the Santa Fe River between Branford and Fort White, Florida.  14 people were arrested in that protest. Demonstrations at the site continue, with a dawn march and demonstration that began just after sunrise on November 26th. No arrests were made on that day. Another protest encampment, the Crystal Waters Camp, is also in place near Fort Drum, Florida, where observers noted hydrocarbon releases from the pipeline construction into Fort Drum Creek and destruction of wildlife by a pipeline crew. Still other protests about the potential environmental risks posed by the Sabal Trail have taken place recently in both Orlando and Live Oak, Florida.

Even in the phases of construction, environmentalists in Georgia discovered that the Sabal Trail pipeline had started leaking drilling mud from a pilot hole into the Withlacooche River in late October, and continued to ooze turbid mud for at least three weeks. Environmental advocates from the WWALS (the Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Little, and Upper Suwannee River) Watershed Coalition raised concerns that if a pilot hole could cause such a leakage, what could happen once full-scale directional drilling was occurring?

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Colonial Pipeline and site of Sept 2016 leak in Alabama

A Proper Picture of the Colonial Pipeline’s Past

On September 9, 2016 a pipeline leak was detected from the Colonial Pipeline by a mine inspector in Shelby County, Alabama. It is estimated to have spilled ~336,000 gallons of gasoline, resulting in the shutdown of a major part of America’s gasoline distribution system. As such, we thought it timely to provide some data and a map on the Colonial Pipeline Project.

Figure 1. Dynamic map of Colonial Pipeline route and related infrastructure

View Map Fullscreen | How Our Maps Work | The Sept. 2016 leak occurred in Shelby County, Alabama

Pipeline History

The Colonial Pipeline was built in 1963, with some segments dating back to at least 1954. Colonial carries gasoline and other refined petroleum projects throughout the South and Eastern U.S. – originating at Houston, Texas and terminating at the Port of New York and New Jersey. This ~5,000-mile pipeline travels through 12 states and the Gulf of Mexico at one point. According to available data, prior to the September 2016 incident for which the cause is still not known, roughly 113,382 gallons had been released from the Colonial Pipeline in 125 separate incidents since 2010 (Table 1).

Table 1. Reported Colonial Pipeline incident impacts by state, between 3/24/10 and 7/25/16

State Incidents (#) Barrels* Released Total Cost ($)
AL 10 91.49 2,718,683
GA 11 132.38 1,283,406
LA 23 86.05 1,002,379
MD 6 4.43 27,862
MS 6 27.36 299,738
NC 15 382.76 3,453,298
NJ 7 7.81 255,124
NY 2 27.71 88,426
PA 1 0.88 28,075
SC 9 1639.26 4,779,536
TN 2 90.2 1,326,300
TX 19 74.34 1,398,513
VA 14 134.89 15,153,471
Total** 125 2699.56 31,814,811
*1 Barrel = 42 U.S. Gallons

** The total amount of petroleum products spilled from the Colonial Pipeline in this time frame equates to roughly 113,382 gallons. This figure does not include the September 2016 spill of ~336,000 gallons.

Data source: PHMSA

Unfortunately, the Colonial Pipeline has also been the source of South Carolina’s largest pipeline spill. The incident occurred in 1996 near Fork Shoals, South Carolina and spilled nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Reedy River. The September 2016 spill has not reached any major waterways or protected ecological areas, to-date.

Additional Details

Owners of the pipeline include Koch Industries, South Korea’s National Pension Service and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Royal Dutch Shell, and Industry Funds Management.

For more details about the Colonial Pipeline, see Table 2.

Table 2. Specifications of the Colonial and/or Intercontinental pipeline

Pipeline Segments 1,1118
Mileage (mi.)
Avg. Length 4.3
Max. Length 206
Total Length 4,774
Segment Flow Direction (# Segments)
Null 657
East 33
North 59
Northeast 202
Northwest 68
South 20
Southeast 30
Southwest 14
West 35
Segment Bi-Directional (# Segments)
Null 643
No 429
Yes 46
Segment Location
State Number Total Mileage Avg. Mileage Long Avg. PSI Avg. Diameter (in.)
Alabama 11 782 71 206 794 35
Georgia 8 266 33 75 772 27
Gulf of Mexico 437 522 1.2 77 50 1.4
Louisiana 189 737 3.9 27 413 11
Maryland 11 68 6.2 9 781 30
Mississippi 63 56 0.9 15 784 29
North Carolina 13 146 11.2 23 812 27
New Jersey 65 314 4.8 28 785 28
New York 2 6.4 3.2 6.4 800 26
Pennsylvania 72 415 5.8 17 925 22
South Carolina 6 119 19.9 55 783 28
Texas 209 1,004 4.8 33 429 10
Virginia 32 340 10.6 22 795 27
PSI = Pounds per square inch (pressure)

Data source: US EIA


By Sam Rubright, Ted Auch, and Matt Kelso – FracTracker Alliance

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline in Southeastern US

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline: At what cost?

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Asserting that the proposed Palmetto Pipeline is essential to supply gas and diesel to the residents of south Georgia and northern Florida, Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan has found themselves in the crosshairs of yet another battle. Connecting to the existing Plantation Pipeline, the proposed $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline would run from Belton, SC to terminals in Augusta, SC; Richmond Hill, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, a distance of 360+ miles. Along that corridor currently, gasoline is delivered from inland terminals to ports via trucking companies rather than by pipeline.

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline Route


View full screen map | How to work with our maps

The Land in Question

In order for the pipeline to be built through Georgia, agreements for a pipeline right-of-way would need to be sealed with 396 private landowners, and the land owned by these private citizens constitutes 92% of the route of the pipeline through the state. According to Kinder Morgan, however, 80% of the pipeline would be build next to (although not within) existing rights-of way for powerlines, pipelines, railroads, and roadways.

Kinder Morgan asserts that the Palmetto Pipeline would create 28 permanent jobs in Georgia. However, opponents of the pipeline measure the flip-side of economic impacts, with more than 250 jobs lost for coastal Georgia truckers, port workers, and Merchant Marines, as a result of changing the transportation medium for the petroleum to pipeline from truck.

The proposed pipeline would carry 167,000 barrels a day of refined petroleum – crossing the Savannah River, four other major watersheds in Georgia (Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, and St. Mary’s), the upper reaches of the Okefenokee watershed, and countless freshwater, tidal, and brackish wetlands. These aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through which the pipeline would pass are home to diverse numbers of rare and endangered species, as well as sportfish and notable forest habitats. Much of the area is underlain by extensive karst rock deposits, and as such, is especially at risk for groundwater contamination.

Pipeline Push Back

42-inch Pipeline Installation in WV

Example of a 42-inch Pipeline Installation in WV

A fight against the pipeline is being waged between the public and Kinder Morgan. Opponents of the pipeline, such as the group “Push Back The Pipeline,” point out contradictions between Kinder Morgan’s rhetoric and the actual situation. For example, although the pipeline will run underground, protected from surface disturbance, should it rupture, the spilled petroleum could still have major impacts on coastal rivers that drain through wetlands, marshes, and into the Atlantic Ocean. Although 80% of landowners approached by Kinder Morgan for rights-of-way agreed to sign leases, it turns out that none of them were given the option not to sign. Kinder Morgan surveyors also trespassed on landowner property in the proposed right-of-way without any permission to be there. Kinder Morgan asserts that the pipeline will reduce reliance on foreign oil, when, in fact, the US is already a net exporter of petroleum products. Kinder Morgan also claims that the need for this oil will only increase, when statistics show that Georgia’s energy demands peaked in 2002, and have fallen 18% between 2005 and 2012 (data from eia.gov). Property owners along the proposed pipeline route are no strangers to spills, either. Kinder Morgan claims that pipelines are the safest method for transporting fuel. As recently as December 2014, however, Kinder Morgan’s Plantation Pipeline in Belton, SC – the location where Palmetto is proposed to start – spilled at least 360,000 gallons of fuel into the ground. Only half of the spilled fuel was recovered.

Opposition to the project is not following party lines. In May of 2015, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vowed to fight the project in court. Similarly, the Georgia Department of Transportation rejected the proposal, stating that it was not in the public interest, and therefore, seizing the right-of-way by eminent domain was not an acceptable strategy for Kinder Morgan to pursue.

Another formidable opponent of the project is William S. Morris III, a powerful media magnate who owns newspapers in Jacksonville, Savannah, and Augusta and has been providing continual coverage of the controversy. Morris also owns more than 20,000 acres directly along the pipeline route, and could potentially lose an 11- mile corridor of land to eminent domain if the pipeline project is approved.

In late February 2016, a Georgia House subcommittee approved a moratorium on use of eminent domain on petroleum pipelines. Eminent domain would allow Kinder Morgan to take a 50-foot-wide strip of land for the pipeline right-of-way, whether or not the private citizens owning that land were in favor. The bill now moves on to a full committee. Georgia state law also requires that petroleum companies must prove a project meets guidelines of “public necessity” before eminent domain could ever move ahead.

Although Kinder Morgan hopes to see the pipeline built and in service by December 2017, critical components, such as a complete right-of-way, are far from finalized.

See the recent documentary created about the Palmetto Pipeline here:


At What Cost? Pipelines, Pollution & Eminent Domain in the Rural South from Mark Albertin on Vimeo.