Over the first week of November, we watched as the energy empire impaled the earth under the Santa Fe River to begin a horizontal direction drilling (HDD) operation for the Sabal Trail pipeline. Sabal Trail is the name of the main leg in a series of over 700 miles of pipelines and compressor stations from central Alabama to southern Florida, which is being built by a consortium of energy interests lead by Spectra, as well as other familiar names such as Enbridge, of DAPL infamy, and Florida’s own FPL. The plan currently entails transport for fracked gas, though companies have indicated that the pipeline could also be refitted for oil transport in the future. This energy is aimed at both fueling further sprawl across Florida and exporting fossil fuels to markets abroad.
There is a bounty of reasons to oppose this project, from the regional threats our waterways and wild lands to the global impacts of climate change. For a few examples, the project is slated to impact 4,370 acres of forests, 1,958 wetland systems and 699 waterbodies; it will emit greenhouse gas and toxic pollutants through its compressor stations, not to mention the impacts from power plants that will burn the fuel for electricity and the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals that will process and store the fuel. Add to that the utter disregard for low-income/minority “environmental justice communities”—the Environmental Impacts Statement (EIS) acknowledged that 83.7% of the Project would cross or be within one mile of environmental justice populations, including 135 environmental justice communities. That is to say nothing of ongoing eminent domain proceedings and the potential impacts of leaks and combustion.
The time for contemplating and speculating on these impacts has passed. It’s time to ask ourselves: what am I willing to do to stop this pipeline?
The damage has already begun, and in response to a series of environmental lawsuits seeking to halt the project, the companies only seem to be working faster. Crews have been reported on site late into evenings and on Sundays in many of the active construction spots along the route.
There’s no doubt that people are angry all across Florida. When public hearings happened for the EIS in 2013, hundreds of landowners and environmentalists turned out to speak against it, almost all the way across the route, with counties in North/Central FL being among the most outraged.
Unfortunately, Spectra didn’t have to go back and notify these people that construction was beginning. As a result, most rural residents are unaware. In areas where they have broken ground across the state, signs simply say “road work ahead” with the construction company’s name, Price Gregory, on trucks and signage. Their intention seems to be to avoid any public mention of Spectra, Enbridge or pipelines.
Nonetheless, resistance is brewing. Last month, under the leadership of American Indian Movement activists who had been at Standing Rock, the Sacred Water Camp (SWC) kicked off outside Live Oak. They began monitoring and disrupting construction surrounding the Suwannee River. Soon after the birth of SWC, news surfaced from local residents along the Santa Fe River that HDD work was set to start. In response, Earth First! activists from the Gainesville area called for an action camp November 4 thru 7. The Facebook event for the camp spread like wildfire, with almost 5,000 people getting invited over the two weeks of planning. Only a fraction of that showed up, indicating that we need to make the leap from social media to social movement on this issue.
Don’t get me wrong, we showed that 40 water warriors can accomplish a hell of a lot over a weekend. For example, we blocked trucks on multiple occasions over the 3 days, slowing work down for three straight hours on one occasion; we followed water trucks supplying the drill site and exposed a scandal of water being pulled directly from the Santa Fe, a river already suffering low levels, without knowledge of the any state agencies (causing at least a day of delay for inspections); and we attracted multiple news stories from regional media outlets. Still, it wasn’t enough. As I type, they are back at work, unobstructed, under the river we love. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We all have reasons that keep us from showing up to actions like this, but the time for excuses are over. News of this harm to the river should come like getting news of a loved one in dire need. Are you the family member that is too busy, or are you the one who re-arranges your priorities so you can be there?
The Three Rivers region where this pipeline crosses (Santa Fe, Suwanee and Ichetucknee) has a long history of local environmental struggles, from the cement factory to the numerous attempts at water bottling plants. This time, the fight also has a global context, just as Standing Rock is standing up to Enbridge on the Missouri River over local land rights, they are also speaking about water pollution and climate change that impact millions of people and countless other species. The same is true here.
The weekend we spent tracking and blocking trucks needed for the drilling operation showed us that the construction is very vulnerable. They need to supply the drill with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water throughout the work day. They also need to constantly haul the contaminated spoils of drilling off site. Delays in these moments can cause major setbacks, throwing them off schedule and costing them money. But it can only happen if we are out there, taking risks to fight for what you love.
If you can arrange your personal schedule to risk arrest, and possibly spend a night in jail, we can bring drilling to a halt. In doing so, we can overwhelm the Gilchrist and Suwanee County jails and court systems by demanding jury trials and defending our rights to stand up for our threatened water supply.
In a moment where the national political climate presents an overwhelming feeling of defeat, actions like this can provide a way to reclaim our power to engage the system on our own terms. And they can help issues like this make their way into the national spotlight, and attract the level of attention and pressure needed to defeat them entirely.
Not everyone who shows up needs to risk arrest, but in order to increase the effectiveness of those who do take a risk, everyone needs to show up to the calls to action in the coming weeks.
If you are a student, find a way to make this part of your studies.
If you have a conflict with work, take a sick day.
If you have children, bring them out to see the importance of standing up for the future.
And if you care for elderly family members, bring them out to see that the world is changing in their lifetime.
Panagioti is a long-time organizer with the Earth First! movement, and a former editor of the Earth First! Journal. He is currently based on a small farm in Alachua County. Eternal Springs Earth First! is an ad hoc group organized to resist the Sabal Trail in North/Central Florida.