Many in South Florida who have heard of the Sabal Trail Pipeline consider it a distant issue, affecting only northern and central Florida. But we ignore this pipeline at our own peril.
Sabal Trail is a 515-mile pipeline intended to transport a billion cubic feet of fracked gas a day through the Upper Floridan Aquifer, an ecologically crucial region and the source of 60 percent of our state’s drinking water. It is being built by a consortium of companies, which includes NextEra, the parent company of Florida Power & Light.
The dangers from this pipeline are part of an unfolding and interrelated water crisis directly related to climate change and that now threatens every part of Florida. If we make wrong decisions now, we may wake up with the entire state looking like Flint, Michigan, dependent on bottled water for all our needs.
The aquifer in South Florida is already suffering from saltwater intrusion caused by those rising seas. Meanwhile, FP&L is moving forward with its plan to store its radioactive nuclear water waste beneath the aquifer. Further north, toxic algae tides flowing from Lake Okeechobee are caused by fertilizer runoff from Big Agribusinesses, one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
Meanwhile, the Big Sugar farms south of the lake prevent those toxins from being naturally filtered through marshland. They also prevent the replenishment of the Everglades, thereby speeding up the salination of our aquifer.
Still further north is the Sabal Trail Pipeline, which will transport fracked gas for export as Liquified Natural Gas to China and elsewhere. More ominously, the pipeline will run through sinkhole country. Gov. Rick Scott may want to pay more attention to another scientific fact, namely the law of gravity. Should a sinkhole open unexpectedly under the pipeline, the pipeline may break open, sending lots of fracked gas into the aquifer.
Pipeline representatives claim that fracked gas would rise above the aquifer and dissipate in the air. But according to neutral scientists, toxic components of the fracked gas with a larger molecular weight than air would suspend or sink. If a pipeline break were to occur underneath a river or other wetlands, upward migration of hydrocarbon gas could very well contaminate these freshwater sources as well.
In my primary campaign last year against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I pointed out that many Republicans and Democrats alike have taken millions of dollars from corporate interests in Florida, including the fossil fuels industry and Big Sugar.
Senator Bill Nelson has taken more than $73,000 from NextEra, which may explain why he continues to ignore the more than 100,000 petition signatures against the pipeline that we have presented to his office. In voting against the Keystone XL Pipeline, Nelson expressed concern about the massive Ogallala Aquifer and the source of drinking water for millions of Americans in the Midwest. He should be more concerned about the drinking water of his own constituents here in Florida.
There are solutions to all these problems. Solar panels on half the acreage of the Sabal Trail Pipeline could produce more energy each day than the pipeline would transport, and without endangering our drinking water. But FP&L has been doing all it can to prevent any solar energy initiative from being passed in Tallahassee, in defiance of 73 percent of the voters statewide who voted for Amendment 4, the Solar Energy Amendment last August.
On all these crucial water and climate issues, Floridians are well ahead of the politicians who remain in the pockets of the fossil fuels industry, FP&L and Big Sugar and agribusinesses. We can no longer deal only with the symptoms of climate change by dredging sand to shovel onto our beaches, while ignoring the growing threats to our drinking water, tourist economy, and future generations.
Tim Canova is chair of Progress For All, a community action group in Hollywood, and a Professor of Law and Public Finance at the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie/Fort Lauderdale.