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Drilling Mud Leak In South Georgia Raises New Sabal Trail Pipeline Concerns

The Sabal Trail drilling mud leak in the Withlacoochee River surrounded by a turbidity curtain.
Deanna Mericle via wwals.net

Drilling mud from the Sabal Trail pipeline is leaking into the Withlacoochee River in Georgia.  The spill in the Suwannee River tributary could impact the Floridan aquifer. 

UPDATED 4:05 p.m.

Water activists are raising the alarm over a South Georgia drilling leak in the Withlacoochee River.  Sabal Trail is drilling beneath the river to build a more than 500-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from Alabama to Florida.

WWALS Watershed Coalition works to protect the Withlacoochee, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Little and Upper Suwannee Rivers. 

WWALS President John Quarterman says Sabal Trail assured the Florida Department of Environmental Protection last year the project was safe.

“Sabal Trail testified under oath that this could not happen,” he says.  “Florida DEP gave them a permit apparently believing them, so did the US Army Corps of Engineers and so did the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Georgia environmental protection division—well it did happen.”

The leak—stemming from a pilot hole drilled beneath the river—is relatively small.  But Quarterman believes it could be a preview of future problems. 

“First of all, we don’t know where else it leaked underground,” he says.  “If it could leak up into the river it could’ve leaked sideways, it could be extending who knows how far.  Nobody knows.  That’s what we tried to explain to them.”

Flows from the river feed the Floridan aquifer, and the pipeline project will run beneath the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers as well. 


Shortly after this story was published a Sabal Trail spokeswoman provided comment via email.  The company claims the spill was inadvertent, and "there was never any danger to human health or safety, and no harm to the environment."  The spill involved drilling mud which Sabal Trail describes as primarily a mixture of bentonite clay and water.  WWAL notes bentonite can reduce oxygen in the water potentially threatening fish and other aquatic species.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.