By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator
Asserting that the proposed Palmetto Pipeline is essential to supply gas and diesel to the residents of south Georgia and northern Florida, Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan has found themselves in the crosshairs of yet another battle. Connecting to the existing Plantation Pipeline, the proposed $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline would run from Belton, SC to terminals in Augusta, SC; Richmond Hill, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, a distance of 360+ miles. Along that corridor currently, gasoline is delivered from inland terminals to ports via trucking companies rather than by pipeline.
Proposed Palmetto Pipeline Route
The Land in Question
In order for the pipeline to be built through Georgia, agreements for a pipeline right-of-way would need to be sealed with 396 private landowners, and the land owned by these private citizens constitutes 92% of the route of the pipeline through the state. According to Kinder Morgan, however, 80% of the pipeline would be build next to (although not within) existing rights-of way for powerlines, pipelines, railroads, and roadways.
Kinder Morgan asserts that the Palmetto Pipeline would create 28 permanent jobs in Georgia. However, opponents of the pipeline measure the flip-side of economic impacts, with more than 250 jobs lost for coastal Georgia truckers, port workers, and Merchant Marines, as a result of changing the transportation medium for the petroleum to pipeline from truck.
The proposed pipeline would carry 167,000 barrels a day of refined petroleum – crossing the Savannah River, four other major watersheds in Georgia (Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, and St. Mary’s), the upper reaches of the Okefenokee watershed, and countless freshwater, tidal, and brackish wetlands. These aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through which the pipeline would pass are home to diverse numbers of rare and endangered species, as well as sportfish and notable forest habitats. Much of the area is underlain by extensive karst rock deposits, and as such, is especially at risk for groundwater contamination.
Pipeline Push Back
A fight against the pipeline is being waged between the public and Kinder Morgan. Opponents of the pipeline, such as the group “Push Back The Pipeline,” point out contradictions between Kinder Morgan’s rhetoric and the actual situation. For example, although the pipeline will run underground, protected from surface disturbance, should it rupture, the spilled petroleum could still have major impacts on coastal rivers that drain through wetlands, marshes, and into the Atlantic Ocean. Although 80% of landowners approached by Kinder Morgan for rights-of-way agreed to sign leases, it turns out that none of them were given the option not to sign. Kinder Morgan surveyors also trespassed on landowner property in the proposed right-of-way without any permission to be there. Kinder Morgan asserts that the pipeline will reduce reliance on foreign oil, when, in fact, the US is already a net exporter of petroleum products. Kinder Morgan also claims that the need for this oil will only increase, when statistics show that Georgia’s energy demands peaked in 2002, and have fallen 18% between 2005 and 2012 (data from eia.gov). Property owners along the proposed pipeline route are no strangers to spills, either. Kinder Morgan claims that pipelines are the safest method for transporting fuel. As recently as December 2014, however, Kinder Morgan’s Plantation Pipeline in Belton, SC – the location where Palmetto is proposed to start – spilled at least 360,000 gallons of fuel into the ground. Only half of the spilled fuel was recovered.
Opposition to the project is not following party lines. In May of 2015, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vowed to fight the project in court. Similarly, the Georgia Department of Transportation rejected the proposal, stating that it was not in the public interest, and therefore, seizing the right-of-way by eminent domain was not an acceptable strategy for Kinder Morgan to pursue.
Another formidable opponent of the project is William S. Morris III, a powerful media magnate who owns newspapers in Jacksonville, Savannah, and Augusta and has been providing continual coverage of the controversy. Morris also owns more than 20,000 acres directly along the pipeline route, and could potentially lose an 11- mile corridor of land to eminent domain if the pipeline project is approved.
In late February 2016, a Georgia House subcommittee approved a moratorium on use of eminent domain on petroleum pipelines. Eminent domain would allow Kinder Morgan to take a 50-foot-wide strip of land for the pipeline right-of-way, whether or not the private citizens owning that land were in favor. The bill now moves on to a full committee. Georgia state law also requires that petroleum companies must prove a project meets guidelines of “public necessity” before eminent domain could ever move ahead.
Although Kinder Morgan hopes to see the pipeline built and in service by December 2017, critical components, such as a complete right-of-way, are far from finalized.
See the recent documentary created about the Palmetto Pipeline here: