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Sabal Trail Pipeline Leaks Put Central Florida Residents On Edge

A map of the Sabal Trail Pipeline route from Alabama to Central Florida.
Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A little over a month after the Sabal Trail Pipeline went online, Central Florida residents are reporting foul-smelling leaks. Despite the sulfur-like scent, the structure is not emitting natural gas. But neighbors and naturalists are still concerned about the impacts.

A map of the Sabal Trail Pipeline route from Alabama to Central Florida.
Credit Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC. /
The Florida Channel

Beginning July 16 th, residents of Marion County in Central Florida began reporting what they believed were gas leaks. Residents called 911, saying the foul-smelling odor was coming from the direction of the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

Janet Barrow is a Marion County resident, and has been following the construction of the pipeline for four years. The structure runs for six miles through the ranch she lives on. While she hasn’t smelled the leaks, friends of hers have.

“I have friends that live in that area and downwind from it. They have businesses on the river and such. And they’re smelling it up to over four miles away," she said. "And this has been going on for more than a month now.”

Members of the Marion County hazardous materials squad and a Sabal Trail technician responded to the site. They determined there was no natural gas leak. The smell was instead coming from the pipeline’s odorant tanks. Natural gas has no smell, so utilities add the sulfur-smelling substance to alert residents of potential issues. The Sabal Trail technician located the leak and capped it.

According to the Marion County incident report, the technician said “this was a new system and they are still learning.”

Janet Barrow says natural gas or not, the leaks don’t inspire confidence in the project. 

“Hello! You know, is that what they’re going to say when the pipeline itself leaks gas?” she asked.

Reports of more leaks came on August 5 th. In a response for comment, Sabal Trail representative Andrea Grover said there is no danger to the public. Grover provided the following statement:

Over the past several weeks, Sabal Trail has been working through minor mechanical issues on the above ground odorant equipment at the future compressor station site along State Route 200 near Dunnellon in Marion County. During those activities, some have smelled the odorant that is typically added to the natural gas. The tanks are permanent and store the odorant prior to it being combined with the natural gas.

  Natural gas in its natural state is odorless.  The US Department of Transportation, who regulates interstate natural  pipelines, has regulations where odorant is required to be added. 

  At no time, has there been a natural gas leak from the pipeline and there is no danger to the public. Sabal Trail is actively working to permanently resolve this issue as soon as possible, and we will continue to coordinate these activities with the county’s first responders. 

James Lucas represents the Marion County Fire Rescue. He says the department’s hazardous materials team is specifically trained to respond to Sabal Trail.

“They have air monitors that they go in and they’re able to tell at what parts per million this odor is," he said. “We have a diagram of the building. We know where the pumps are. We know where the pump panels are. We’re able to go in and mitigate a hazard as soon as possible.”

The Withlacoochee river runs through Marion County, near where the Sabal Trail Pipeline sprung an odorant leak.
Credit Southwest Florida Water Management District /!
The Florida Channel
The Withlacoochee river runs through Marion County, near where the Sabal Trail Pipeline sprung an odorant leak.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipsin is with the Sierra Club of Florida and she says there’s still a disconnect with the public.

“They don’t know to call Sabal Trail. Most of them don’t know Sabal Trail exists in their community still. Which is amazing, but that’s the reports I’m getting from the people that live in the community,” she said.

And Malwitz-Jipsin is already bracing for future issues.

“It would be great if there could be some sort of public service explaining what it is and what an explosion looks like. And what is an incineration zone? And how far is that reaching? It shouldn’t just be on the public to do their research,” she said.

But she’s worried that if the leaks continue, first responders may start to brush off residents’ concerns. But James Lucas says that will not be the case.

“We are going to respond morning, noon or night, regardless. And I would like to ease the concerns of those constituents in southwest part if Marion County, that Marion County Fire Rescue is here to serve 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Lucas said.

Lucas says the agency is preparing for future leaks, and they’re encouraging residents to reach out to their first responders. 

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.