Court sets stage for shutdown of gas pipeline through Georgia


A federal court has moved to shut down the controversial Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The ruling – a triumph for environmentalists – left standing a previous court ruling that had criticized the government for not considering the downstream effects of the natural gas pipeline.

The decision came down from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Thursday. The court did not issue a statement or detailed opinion. But the decision not to revisit the August decision means – absent further legal action – that the Sabal Trail pipeline will lose permission to run and operations will be halted.

The Sabal pipeline is a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy.

The case that had wended its way through the court system started life as a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, which argued that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did not study the emissions from the burning of natural gas that had been carried by the Sabal pipeline.

The pipeline had been controversial even in the planning stages with protest for several years before the pipeline went into service on July 3.

It is possible that the commission or company may have recourse that might delay a shutdown. FERC had previously said it was willing to do more studies, but wanted the pipeline to continue operation while the research was done.

In response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sabal spokeswoman Andrea Grover offered no details, but indicated that the legal proceedings were not quite at the end of the line.

“Given this is still pending litigation, we will not comment,” she said.

The 515-mile pipeline provides fuel for Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy of Florida.

According to Sabal Trail Transmission, which operates the pipeline, the project runs through 162 miles of Georgia.

At full capacity, the $3 billion project can carry 830,000 dekatherms per day. One dekatherm is equal to 1 million British thermal units.

Sabal was approved by FERC two years ago.

The energy companies involved argued that the pipeline was needed to carry natural gas to Florida.

But some property owners objected to the project using condemnation of land in to obtain rights of way. And environmentalists argued that the pipeline was not only unnecessary, but the company had chosen a route that was likely to pollute clean water.



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