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Active pipeline construction. Source: Mitch Allen, Polk County, FL

A few weeks ago, I covered the literal cover-up of the Sabal Trail Pipeline/Florida Southeast Connection (FSC) pipeline’s neglectful installation. The Southeastern region’s DAPL-like natural gas pipeline, spanning from Alabama to Florida, has led to protests, police brutality and arrests–because environmentalists are aware of the extreme dangers that come with building these pipelines, and progressives know that it’s funded by dirty money.

PSC Rockford (the company installing the pipeline) forgot to install the required weighted ecobags, and had to re-excavate already-installed pipeline. The most damning part of our video showed that, while re-excavating the pipeline, PSC’s machinery scraped the pipeline’s anti-corrosion coating in at least one area, possibly along approximately a thousand feet of pipeline.

Unfortunately, the negligence does not end at simple scratches. You see, the Sabal Pipeline and the FSC, along with any large-scale construction project like this comes with some very strict, agreed-upon regulations, that have been set-up in a way to PROTECT the environment and the people who live in those areas. And when I say protect, what I actually mean is HOLD ACCOUNTABLE.

The thing is, I’ve noticed a bit of disconnect on the emphasis of importance of the potential impact of these seemingly small violations-–and legal ramifications they might have. In other words, when PCS Rockford is out there cutting corners and half-assing this project and not following the FERC guidelines they agreed upon, they’re putting YOUR family at risk, and should be held LIABLE for it.

Let’s talk about some of those violations:

1. COMPROMISING THE ANTI-CORROSION COATING 

Realizing you forgot to weigh down your pipeline with ecobags (an important necessity for keeping the pipeline in place) and having to dig it back up in multiple locations is the sort of screw up someone might lose their job over–but that’s exactly what happened in March/April and in at least one location, they DAMAGED the anti-corrosion coating along the entire re-excavation area, which was approximately one-thousand feet of pipeline.

While reviewing our video, we also noticed that the required “Cathodic Protection” or Integrity Management system had not been installed (I’ll talk more on this later). This shoddy construction is a direct contradiction to what they are legally SUPPOSED to do:  

§ 192.459 External corrosion control: Examination of buried pipeline when exposed.

Whenever an operator has KNOWLEDGE THAT ANY PORTION OF A BURIED PIPELINE IS EXPOSED, the exposed portion MUST BE EXAMINED FOR EVIDENCE of external corrosion if the pipe is bare, or if the coating is deteriorated. If external corrosion requiring remedial action under §§ 192.483 through 192.489 is found, THE OPERATOR SHALL INVESTIGATE CIRCUMFERENTIALLY AND LONGITUDINALLY BEYOND THE EXPOSED PORTION (by visual examination, indirect method, or both) to determine whether additional corrosion requiring remedial action exists in the vicinity of the exposed portion.”


Now, compare that to what they ACTUALLY did (skip to 15:00 for damage):

And before anyone tries to minimize the importance of a possible breach of the coating, keep in mind that this is no isolated incident. According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports, human error associated with excavation damage was responsible for 15.1 percent of all (reported) onshore pipeline incidents from 1994 to 2013. Since April 1982, operators have been required to participate in “one call” public utility programs in populated areas to minimize unauthorized excavation activities in the vicinity of pipelines.

Since construction on the Sabal Trail Pipeline first began in 2013, this $3.5 billion-dollar pipeline has seen over $7,040,377 worth of HUMAN-ERROR DAMAGES:

In other words, you can bet your sweet ass this thing will soon have a leak.

2. CATHODIC PROTECTION IS BEING IGNORED

So there’s a mysterious item in the Sabal Pipeline project that construction workers seem to have forgotten the importance of. This item is a cathodic protection, an anti-erosion wire system that is supposed to run parallel to the ENTIRE pipeline and on both sides, from the Sabal Pipeline Trail down to the Florida Southeast Connection. Is this wiring important? Yes–in fact, the law requires that any pipeline installed after July 31, 1971 MUST have a cathodic protection system installed:

“What are the regulatory requirements for cathodic protection on a pipeline?

Gas pipelines installed after July 31, 1971, and hazardous liquid interstate pipelines installed after March 31, 1970, must be properly coated and have cathodic protection (CP). Effective dates for other categories of pipelines apply.
CP is required on any pipeline installed before these dates if the pipeline is coated, or where areas of active corrosion are present if the line is bare or ineffectively coated.

Performance of CP Systems must be monitored regularly with tests performed at least once per year. Records must be maintained for the life of the pipeline.
Each pipeline must have sufficient test points for electrical measurement to determine CP adequacy. Test points should be shown on CP system maps.

Operators must maintain records or maps of their CP systems. Records of all tests, surveys, or inspections required by the regulations must be maintained.
Pipelines that are found to have deficient CP must be remediated in a timely manner (usually within 12 to 18 months after discovery).”


Corrosion is a
big fucking deal. According to Pipeline Accident Data from 1994 to 2013, corrosion has been the cause of over 17% of the total of gas-transmission incidents.

Prior to 1971, pipelines were not required to use cathodic protection and protective
coatings. Nowadays, the use of both an external protective coating and a cathodic protection system significantly reduces the rate of failure, as compared to unprotected or partially protected pipes. It also helps protect the pipeline from “outside force incidents,” or damage caused by the encroachment of mechanical equipment, and earth movements due to soil settlement, washouts, or geologic hazards. It is even supposed to help against the many Floridian weather effects, such as wind, storms, thermal strains (fires) and other forces.

PSC is either taking their sweet ass time to install the external part of this system, or they’re hoping no one notices the fact that it HAS NOT BEEN COMPLETELY INSTALLED.

So let’s take a look at all the violations in this photo:

The red arrow shows how the cathodic protection wires are installed, but when you look closer, you also see the PSC crew trying to install the cathodic protection in a very unsafe ditch. The workers are sandwiched between the 36” steel pipe and the sand wall of a 10 to 12 foot deep ditch. You can also tell that the sand walls of the ditch are caving in (just beyond the black and white ecobags) with heavy equipment directly above the workers.

FERC/Sabal Trail documents state that ditches need to be pumped DRY before backfilling, and shoring boxes (sturdy walls that protect workers from cave-ins) are required if workers are in ditches that are more than 4 feet deep. This ditch, however, has standing water in it and you can even see these guys literally SINKING up to their knees. There is no ladder, no shoring boxes, and there’s even a supervisor walking across a makeshift bridge that has NO safety rails! Damn.

Polk County, Florida resident Mitch Allen’s library of documented footage of the Sabal Pipeline construction (including the video and image above) proves that the wiring is consistently NOT INSTALLED or is partially installed in some areas. And while the document allows for the Cathodic Protection to be installed up to a year after the pipeline is laid in the ground, the Sabal Trail Plan states that it will be installed within the right-of-way and DURING pipeline construction. In fact, when Allen, who is a resident in Polk County, Florida, asked John Peconom, environmental biologist staff member at FERC, he confirmed via email that the wires are indeed intended to be installed throughout the entirety of pipeline’s route.

Additionally, the fact that the topsoil (which is full of gravel, stones, etc.) was mixed with other sediment and not segregated properly, elevates the need to have this cathodic protection installed sooner rather than later.

This is a big deal, considering that these construction sites include WETLANDS and WATER BODIES that act as filters and supply the aquifers with Florida’s main source of drinking water. This is not a joke. The ENTIRE FSC/Sabal Pipeline Project area is underlain by the Florida aquifer system, which includes an area of approximately 100,000 square miles in the southeastern United States, including ALL of Florida. It’s estimated that the Florida aquifer supplies 10 million people with their daily water needs.

3. DUMPING WATER INTO PRIVATE PROPERTY

Careful attention is always supposed to be paid to where the water goes during the de-watering process of wetland, which pumps water out of the area and prepares the land for pipeline installation. I’m not saying it’s an easy process, but it demands attention and discretion. Unfortunately, when the Sabal Pipeline de-watered many of the wetlands in Polk County, Florida, they thought it’d be acceptable to flood private property and even a HOMELESS CAMP.

On several occasions, PSC Rockford set up discharge hoses to pump out wetland water only to sneakily have that water, which was filtered with dirty and often sliced/defective filter bags, pour into residential back yards and other private properties-–not only causing damage, but assuring that all the conditions are ripe for sinkholes…which brings us to the next topic:

4. MIXING OF TOPSOIL & RISK OF SINKHOLES

Construction workers are NOT SUPPOSED to mix the layers of soil when installing a pipeline anywhere, especially in wetlands. Why? Because doing so decimates wetlands and leaves behind a crusty, fissure-filled surface that suffocates the remaining moisture of the wetland. You know what can happen when you fail to segregate soil in wetlands? Sink holes. That’s right. Sabal Pipeline construction has blatantly neglected to properly ‘restore’ wetland by mixing dusty construction soil with wetland soil, which is EXACTLY how you can induce sinkholes.

Want to know what a decimated wetland that had its topsoil mixed looks like?

And I’m not just picking at straws here, guys. There’s an entire, extensive section in the Sabal Pipeline’s Erosion And Sedimentation Control Plan that emphasizes the importance of topsoil segregation, SPECIFICALLY in all residential areas:

“3.5.3.1 Topsoil Segregation
1. Topsoil segregation methods will be used in all residential areas, cultivated or rotated croplands, managed pastures, hayfields, and other areas at the landowner’s or land managing agency’s request.
2. Prevent the mixing of topsoil with subsoil by stripping topsoil (Figure 13) from either the full work area or from the trench line and subsoil storage area (ditch plus spoil side method) as stipulated in the Construction Contract or Line List.
3. Segregate at least 12 inches of topsoil in deep soils with more than 12 inches of topsoil. In soils with less than 12 inches of topsoil, make every effort to segregate the entire topsoil layer.
4. Where topsoil segregation is required, maintain separation of salvaged topsoil and subsoil throughout all construction activities.
5. For wetlands, segregate the top 12 inches of topsoil within the ditchline, except in areas where standing water is present or soils are saturated.
6. Leave gaps in the topsoil piles for the installation of temporary interceptor dikes to allow water to be diverted off ROW.
7. Topsoil replacement (i.e., importation of topsoil) may be used as an alternative to topsoil segregation if approved by the landowner and Chief Inspector.
8. Never use topsoil for padding the pipe, constructing temporary slope breakers or trench plugs, improving or maintaining roads, or as a fill material.
9. Stabilize topsoil piles and minimize loss due to wind and water erosion with use of sediment barriers, mulch, temporary seeding, tackifiers, or functional equivalents, where necessary.”

Now that you know the regulations on how to manage topsoil, check out how PSC Rockford actually handled topsoil in Wetland #47 back in January:

When asked about the video footage of topsoil mixing, chief spokesperson for FERC, Mary O’Driscoll, refused to comment. Instead, she told me that landowners with concerns or complaints can go to the landowner’s helpline.

Thanks for nothing, Mary.

These sinkholes are no joke, and Florida is famous for them. In fact, just last week, a new one emerged just a few miles west of Disney World. Back in December, a sinkhole displaced residents of a condo complex in that same area. And just four years ago, a man named Jeff Bush was tragically swallowed by a sinkhole as he was sleeping.

Groundwater pumping for urban water supply, irrigation, or in this case, pipeline installment, can produce new sinkholes in sinkhole-prone areas.
Sinkholes can also form when natural water-drainage patterns are changed and new water-diversion systems are developed. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed, such as when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created. The substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.

The water below ground is actually helping to keep the surface soil in place. The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by groundwater fluid pressure. Basically, if pumping results in a lowering of groundwater levels, then underground structural failure will happen.

ALL of these changes and sinkhole triggers are sad realities of the Sabal Pipeline construction. Just look at these sinkholes that PSC Rockford created in Loughman and Kissimmee, Florida:

Simply knowing the lack of effort going into following guidelines and procedures of building this pipeline isn’t enough. The mainstream media won’t cover this until a gas leak actually happens, so it’s up to the rest of us to hold these companies and public regulators accountable.

Action needs to be taken towards the FERC’s inability to do its job correctly, to make sure the agreed-upon RULES and REGULATIONS are met, and that RECORD-KEEPING and TRANSPARENCY is available for ALL residents who request them. Yet, the FERC has done an abysmal job at keeping Floridians assured that all possible steps have been taken to avoid a spill of methane gas and other chemicals into our wetland.

When asked for comment, representatives from both FERC and PSC have either denied to comment, deflected to seeking help from the “landowner’s helpline,” or confirmed proper construction tactics that these workers were supposed to take–as evidenced above, many of these steps were not taken.

We CANNOT wait for the inevitable leak. Share this article far and wide and tell Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the silent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and “progressive champion” Debbie Wasserman Schultz that YOU won’t tolerate a shoddy project risking the water source of YOUR family, especially because these seats will be up for grabs in 2018. We have reached out to all of their offices, but requests for comment have not yet been returned.

Gov. Rick Scott’s Tallahassee, FL Office:
(850) 488-7146

Sen. Marco Rubio’s Washington, D.C. Office:
(202) 224-3041

Sen. Bill Nelson’s Washington, D.C. Office:
(202) 224-5274

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise, FL Office:
(954) 845-1179

Special thanks to Mitch Allen for the pictures and videos included in this report.

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