Tampa Bay environmentalists push back on proposed fracked gas pipeline expansion

Environmentalists say expanding fossil fuels will only hurt the local environment and residents.

click to enlarge A map of the proposed area for the gas pipeline expansion to take place - Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
A map of the proposed area for the gas pipeline expansion to take place

Energy companies are pushing for the expansion of a pipeline that would increase the amount of fracked gas sent from Pinellas to Hillsborough, but environmental advocates say it infringes on local clean energy goals.

Last November, Florida Gas Transmission Company (FGTC), which is based in Texas, and Tampa Electric Company quietly introduced a pipeline expansion proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The proposal, called the “Tampa West Project” says the expansion includes, “the construction of approximately 1.26 miles of 8-inch lateral loop pipeline” along with piping attachments.

The proposed area would run alongside the Gandy Bridge, and would attach to a current pipeline to help increase the flow of gas from Pinellas to Hillsborough.

Proposal documents say the addition of the piping could allow the peak hourly flow of gas to the TECO Energy Plant at Big Bend Road to double, from 360 million thermal units of gas per hour to 667 million.

The gas increase would consist of fracked gas from other states, mainly via the Gulfstream Natural Gas Pipeline, which runs across the gulf from Alabama to Florida and is fed by other pipelines.

Estimates show that fracking produces about 67% of America’s natural gas. For decades, the process has proven harmful to the environment via creating large amounts of wastewater, emitting greenhouse gasses, such as methane, and releasing other toxic air pollutants.

The cost of the proposed project does not yet have an estimate, which is dependent on what’s agreed to during a suggested contract agreement date of April 1, 2023, should FERC approve the project.

If the project is approved, the cost would most likely be passed along to the taxpayer. The proposal indicates that part of the preliminary agreement says that the companies will seek to, “recover the cost of service associated with the Project.”

Environmentalists say that the move to increase fracked gas to the area goes against green energy pledges that local municipalities have made in recent years.

Recently, both St. Pete and Tampa joined the Ready for 100 Campaign, which aims to make cities free of fossil fuel use by 2035. Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act says that public health, safety, convenience and necessity must be taken into account when approving pipeline projects.

Environmentalists say that the proposed expansion goes against the local efforts for green energy, and is also a threat to public health.

Brooke Ward, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the proposal caught many environmentalists off guard because it was introduced so quietly. But resistance is now mobilizing.

Already, nearly 100 residents of the Tampa Bay area have signed a pledge to oppose the expansion, which says that, “These expansions are destructive to our neighborhoods and they are in direct opposition to public policy.”

In a press statement released today, Ward voiced concerns about the project.

Ward wrote that FERC should not endorse an expanded gas pipeline at a time when the region has committed to moving away from dirty fossil fuels.

“All this project would do is deepen Tampa Electric ratepayers’ reliance on these destructive and costly fuels,” Ward wrote. “Each new fossil fuel project locks us into decades of reliance on expensive and dangerous gas. Not only are we paying for the increasing cost of that fracked gas, we are paying for these projects as well — at the expense of our health and climate.”

Carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high in 2022, which contributes heavily to global climate change and results in catastrophic weather changes, sea level rise, and other adverse effects. The record was hit at a time when scientists have warned that carbon emissions must be reduced or climate induced chaos will only worsen and become irreversible.

Ward said that Tampa Electric should be decreasing its use of dirty energy, not building new fossil fuel infrastructure to increase its use, especially when ratepayers will be handling the bill.

The project documents highlight that the construction of the pipeline could have adverse environmental effects.

“Potential soil impacts include loss of topsoil due to water or wind erosion, and soil compaction due to construction traffic which can hamper root development,” the document reads.

The proposal also says that the companies would replace that vegetation after construction.

However, oil pipelines in general often have issues with leaking and have spilled millions of gallons across the U.S., causing inestimable environmental destruction. Just last December, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline spilled an estimated half a million gallons into a creek in Kansas.

As FERC considers the proposed project, activists say they will continue to mobilize to stop the project from being approved.

Florida Food & Water Watch advised FERC that the project should require, “a robust environmental review of cumulative and indirect effects of this project,” and says that a thorough review will show that the project should not be approved.


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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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