Washington — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave gas pipeline Sabal Trail Transmission permission to place two compressor stations into service over objections from environmental groups that warned the signoff would increase the pollution burden on a mostly African American community facing a high COVID-19 infection rate.
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The expansion would boost Sabal Trail's capacity above 1 Bcf/d, although flows on a monthly basis have averaged at most 730 MMcf/d since 2017, suggesting limited immediate market impact of the new capacity, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Since coming online in July 2017, the pipeline has expanded the previously limited gas supply sources for Florida, and has had spare capacity even during summer months.
Sabal Trail gained permission Wednesday to place into service two compressor stations: the 20,500 hp Albany Compression Station in Dougherty County, Georgia, and the 20,500 hp Dunnellon Compression Station in Marion County, Florida.
While Sabal Trail recently asked FERC for a six-month extension of its deadline to begin operating the compression out of concern that COVID-19 might affect the timeline for completing work, it told FERC April 8 that mechanical completion had been achieved and it sought approval to begin service on or about April 30.
Rich McGuire, director for FERC's Division of Gas – Environment and Engineering, provided that signoff in a letter Wednesday, finding rehabilitation and restoration work was proceeding satisfactorily, and citing Sabal Trail's commitments to inspect and monitor lands.
Sierra Club and WWALS Watershed Coalition in recent weeks urged FERC to deny the request in separate filings.
"The Albany compressor station would increase air pollution—which has been linked to higher coronavirus death rates—in a predominantly African American community that has 'one of the highest infection rates in the country,'" wrote Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson in an April 13 letter to FERC, citing news articles. "Now is not the time to needlessly increase the pollution burden on an environmental justice community that is particularly vulnerable to these threats." She said 84% of residents within a half-mile radius of the Albany facility are African American.
Andrea Grover, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, said Sabal Trail has engaged with the community and state and federal agencies throughout the permitting process in relation to the compressor location. "We continue to actively monitor the situation and are following the latest guidance provided by local, federal and international public health and government authorities. The US Department of Homeland Security has identified energy infrastructure as being critical during the COVID-19 response," she said.
The efforts to stop the compression come as FERC has heard calls from grassroots environmental groups and some Democratic US House members to put a moratorium on its gas project work amid the coronavirus pandemic.
FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee has called it imperative for FERC to operate as close to normal as possible and continue its gas project reviews so the public will have access to needed energy supplies that will be critical to helping the economy recover.
Activists opposed to FERC's infrastructure approvals held a virtual webinar Thursday highlighting efforts around the country to block new natural gas projects, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Donna Chavis of Robeson County, North Carolina, and founder of the RedTailed Hawk Collective, described ongoing efforts to pressure North Carolina to withdraw the water quality certification for the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline, as well as collaboration with landowners resisting offers for land acquisition by natural gas companies.
"We are ... able to stay strong even with those limitations" related to rural broadband access, with contacts by phone, email and text, she said. "I think it's rather surprised the companies. They're putting much more pressure on landowners to sell out, and coming up with bigger and bigger numbers to offer [landowners] which makes us feel good – means they must feel a little bit of pressure."
Michael Bagdes-Canning of Marcellus Outreach Butler and Better Path Coalition, said MOB had to cancel face-to-face meetings and instead turn to Zoom to meet objectives of "educating, agitating and activating."
Allie Rosenbluth of Rogue Climate, which has fought the Jordan Cove LNG project, credited the people sending in comments or showing up to hearings and sit-ins in Oregon Governor Brown's office with helping motivate the state through its agencies to take positions opposing permits for the project. The state of Oregon has denied a Section 401 water quality certification for the project and objected to a finding that the project was consistent with enforceable standards of the Coastal Zone Management Act.