The Palmetto Pipeline
One of the most high-profile pieces of legislation during the 2016 Georgia General Assembly was the moratorium on petroleum pipelines in Georgia.
House Bill 1036, which passed both chambers in an amended form and was signed by Governor Nathan Deal, temporarily closed the door to permitting and the use of eminent domain for petroleum pipeline construction in the state until a committee can review the current siting and permitting guidelines and procedures. The bill was forwarded in reaction to the proposed Palmetto Pipeline, a 210-mile petroleum pipeline that would traverse five major coastal rivers and cut right through the heart of some of Georgia’s most bio-diverse coastal ecosystems. Through HB 1036, a thoughtful and detailed approach to permitting will be established, a necessary safeguard to that seeks to prevent and mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of the oil spills and leaks - events that have become all too common across the country. Within days of the HB 1036’s passage, Kinder Morgan, the out-of-state company proposing the Palmetto Pipeline and who formed a robust lobbying team to advocate against HB 1036, announced that they will “suspend further work” on the project. The Georgia Conservancy fought hard for the passage of the final amended version of House Bill 1036, and we would like to thank the work of our partners, our members and members of the House and Senate who forwarded the legislation. A special thank you to House Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-159), Representative Colonel Bill Hitchens (R-161), Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R-4) and Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Chairman Jesse Stone (R-23).
The Georgia Conservancy stands with a diverse and widespread group of Georgians in opposition to Kinder Morgan’s proposed Palmetto Pipeline.
The Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla and St. Marys rivers are the veins that give life to Georgia’s dynamic freshwater wetlands, salt marsh, barrier islands and estuaries. Soils and sediments from our ancient Blue Ridge Mountains and our forested coastal plain travel these networks to the sea, depositing themselves in the marsh and providing nutrients to a complex maritime ecosystem - one that houses a vast array of species, both common and threatened, and one that provides Georgians a place with which to recreate and explore. The waters of these rivers literally give life to the coast – they are as precious of a resource that exists in this state. And all of them, along with numerous tributaries and tidal creeks, are directly in the path of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline, a fuel pipeline that would run from northern South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida.
In May 2015, Kinder Morgan, North America’s largest energy infrastructure company, was denied approval by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the approximately 360-mile pipeline (210 of which would be located in Georgia). Kinder Morgan's request was denied after GDOT accepted written public comments and held public hearings in Richmond Hill and Waynesboro. Both hearings saw overwhelming opposition to the proposed pipeline.
Kinder Morgan's appeal to have the GDOT's decision overturned was denied by a Fulton County Superior Court in February 2016.
The Georgia Conservancy has many concerns regarding the proposed Palmetto Pipeline, including its lack of necessity, its potential for irreversible environmental damage and Kinder Morgan’s request to use the power of eminent domain.
Is there an overwhelming public need for an increase in gasoline supply in southeast Georgia that outweighs the environmental harm that the pipeline could potentially inflict?
The data says, NO.
Georgia law requires “a showing that use of the power of eminent domain may be necessary for construction of the pipeline, and a showing that the public necessity for the petroleum pipeline justifies the use of the power of eminent domain.”
Kinder Morgan has yet to prove a public necessity for the Palmetto Pipeline because the data does not support it.
Currently, the fuel needs of coastal Georgia are being adequately met. The greater Savannah area currently consumes 20,000 barrels of fuel per day and is supplied by nearly two dozen competitors. Fuel is shipped to the area via ocean tankers that make call at the Port of Savannah and through trucks that receive fuel at terminals in North Augusta, South Carolina and Macon, Georgia. Additionally, the demand for gasoline and diesel in Georgia and Florida declined 18% from 2005-2012, according the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and there is no sign that there will be a future increase in demand that would merit an increase in fuel supply.
In addition to the lack of demand for increased fuel supplies in the Savannah area, the maximum amount of fuel that the entire Georgia Coast could receive from Kinder Morgan would be less that 15% of the planned pipeline capacity, or more than 22,000 barrels a day – more than current demand.
The “end-user” is Jacksonville, Florida, a city that currently and historically has higher gas prices than Savannah, making it an attractive location for Kinder Morgan to supply with fuel. Exxon and Marathon Oil own two Louisiana refineries from which the gasoline and diesel originate, they share the Jacksonville distribution terminal at which the Palmetto Pipeline will terminate (which Marathon owns), and Exxon owns 49% of the existing Plantation Pipeline (from which the Palmetto Pipeline will be a spur). The Palmetto Pipeline is all about getting fuel to Jacksonville and from one Exxon/Marathon facility to another. The construction of the pipeline in Georgia and on the private land of her citizens is just a means to an end.
Does the Palmetto Pipeline pose a threat to a number of areas in southeast Georgia that have imperiled habitats and that are ecologically-sensitive?
The science says, YES.
According to detailed geographic information systems (GIS) maps of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline route, the pipeline would traverse a number of areas of significant ecological value. GIS habitat maps developed by the Georgia Coastal Land Conservation Initiative (GCLCI), through a partnership between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Conservancy, were combined with GIS maps provided by Kinder Morgan. Included in the path of the proposed route are public and private conservation lands and five major Georgia watersheds.
Found in many of these private and public tracts along the proposed route are habitat areas that are included on the Global Conservation Status Ranking. Species found in these habitats range on the Global Conservation Status scale from G3 (vulnerable, moderate risk of extinction) to G1 (critically imperiled with a very high risk of extinction). Many of these areas are, have been, and remain places of great focus and investment for permanent conservation and/or habitat restoration.
The technology used to build and monitor pipelines such as the proposed Palmetto Pipeline is not a failsafe against accidents. Ruptures of the pipeline and the spillage of thousands of gallons of gasoline has happened on Kinder Morgan pipelines. Currently, and as the company is touting the safety of pipelines like the one that would be constructed in Georgia, our neighbors in South Carolina are dealing with the effects of a 360,000 gallon gasoline spill caused by a faulty sleeve in the Plantation Pipeline, a pipeline owned by Kinder Morgan. If such an incident were to happen to the Palmetto Pipeline, our rivers, marshes, estuaries and public and private lands that house a number of vulnerable and critically imperiled species, and that Georgians rely upon for recreation and as commercial fisheries, could be adversely effected and become permanently polluted.
Should the State of Georgia permit Kinder Morgan to seize Georgian’s lands for private gain with no real benefit to Georgia and her citizens?
In our opinion, ABSOLUTELY NOT.
The seizure of private property by a non-public entity is of great concern to the Georgia Conservancy. When the federal or state government uses the power of eminent domain it is under the understanding that tax paying citizens will benefit from that project and our elected or appointed officials must prove that that outcome will be the case. If government officials abuse this constitutional power, they can be voted out of office. When a publicly-traded, out-of-state company requests the power of eminent domain, they do not do so with the local public’s best interest in mind. They answer to their board of directors, their largest stockholders and their bottom-line, not to the voting and tax-paying public.
Property owners still have to pay property taxes on any ceded, sold or condemned acres that would be used for the pipeline right-of-way. Additionally, future access by the property owner to tracts divided by the right-of-way could become a challenge, both logistically and financially. For any vehicle larger than a pick-up truck (e.g. a tractor or bailer) that crosses over the buried pipeline, a bridge would have to be built at the land owner’s expense.
Kinder Morgan’s Palmetto Pipeline is bad for Georgia. It is not wanted, it is not needed and, if built, could cause irreparable damage to Georgia’s fragile coastal ecosystems. Those who would profit would be the out-of-state corporate executives and shareholders of Kinder Morgan, and the only long-term local jobs that the pipeline could provide would be those of an environmental clean-up crew if the pipeline were to rupture, as the Plantation Pipeline recently did in South Carolina.
Due to our many concerns, the Georgia Conservancy is opposed to the construction of Kinder Morgan’s Palmetto Pipeline and is pleased that the Georgia Department of Transportation has denied the company’s request for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, that the courts upheld that decision and that the Georgia General Assembly thought it best to place a moratorium on petroleum pipeline construction until procedures and regulations can be further studied by a committee.
The preservation of our threatened coastal ecology, the protection of our public waterways from catastrophic environmental damage and the rights of private landowners should be of the upmost concern to the State of Georgia.
The Georgia Conservancy would like to thank the leadership of the Georgia Water Coalition and the Push Back The Pipeline campaign for their continued outreach and education around the proposed pipeline, as well as to Governor Deal, the Georgia Department of Transportation and to the Georgia General Assembly for expressing public concern over the ill-conceived project - one that prolongs our country’s continued reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.