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Sabal Trail pipeline poised for service as opponents resist

The WWALS Watershed Coalition asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny any requests to place into service the large Southeast Market Pipelines natural gas infrastructure project, which includes Sabal Trail Transmission LLC's approximately 1.1 Bcf/d pipeline project, in a last-ditch effort to halt the project.

The request is unlikely to succeed, because FERC approved both the project concept and construction stages along the way. The commission issued a certificate order for the Sabal Trail project and two sister projects on Feb. 2, 2016, and construction on the Sabal Trail pipeline is now complete.

In a May 25 letter posted on May 26, WWALS Watershed Coalition asked the commission to "stay, stop, or deny" all requests to place any part of the project's facilities into service, and also revoke the project's certificate order. The environmental group disputed the need for the pipeline project, its connection to LNG exports, its legal status and its environmental record.

"There is no need for this Sabal Trail pipeline boondoggle," said John Quarterman, president of WWALS Watershed Coalition. The group's name uses an acronym derived from the rivers it protects in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

According to Sabal Trail's director of stakeholder outreach, Andrea Grover, the issues raised by the coalition were previously addressed during the nearly three and half years the project spent in the FERC permitting process.

"Construction is complete, and Sabal Trail is in the process of commissioning, or testing, the pipeline and associated facilities," Grover said in an email. The project is awaiting FERC approval to begin flowing gas commercially.

Sabal Trail filed a request to place certain facilities in service by May 31, although testing is taking more time than planned, Grover said. Its 516-mile pipeline had an original in-service date of May 1 for the first of three phases.

"We are taking the necessary time to ensure the pipeline and associated facilities are ready for operations," Grover said. "Based on our current progress, we anticipate being able to place the planned certain facilities in service early in June. The remaining facilities are still on track for a full commercial in-service by the targeted end of June."

Sabal Trail is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp, NextEra Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. Spectra, which was bought by Enbridge Energy Partners LP in February, owns 59.5% of the project. NextEra owns 33%, and Duke Energy holds a 7.5% share.

The Southeast Market Pipelines project also includes Williams Partners LP's Hillabee pipeline expansion project near the northern end of the Sabal Trail pipeline and NextEra Energy's Florida Southeast Connection project at the southern end. (FERC dockets CP14-554, CP15-16, CP15-17)