Gulfstream Lays Pipe in Tampa Bay, Offshore Alabama

While legislation remains alive that could cripple future expansions of the Gulfstream Natural Gas pipeline and might even bring the project to a standstill, sponsors Duke Energy and Williams said they are moving forward with construction. A Williams spokesman said the company remains confident that the legislation against the pipeline will be removed from the energy appropriations bill during conference on the measure in September.

"It's not law, and we've been assured and multiple people have said publicly that they are going to make sure it gets removed from the language of the bill when it goes to conference," said Williams spokesman Chris Stockton. "We're still going forward. We're putting pipe in the ground. I don't see anything at this point stopping us."

Gulfstream Natural Gas already has started to lay pipe in Tampa Bay for the 753-mile Gulf-crossing pipeline system. The work is part of the shallow water construction effort that includes burying 27 miles of concrete-coated steel pipe between Port Manatee and an area 20 miles west of Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The shallow water work is scheduled to be completed by the end of August. The shallow pipe laying effort will install about one mile of pipe each day.

Another pipe barge is currently laying pipe in deep water off the coast of Alabama, working its way toward Florida. To date, it has laid 25 of the 419 miles of offshore pipe. The $1.6 billion Gulfstream system will be the largest pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico, with capacity to transport 1.1 Bcf/d. It is also the first new natural gas transportation system to serve Florida in more than 40 years.

Florida's need for natural gas to fuel power generation prompted construction of Gulfstream, which will bring gas from onshore and offshore Mississippi and Alabama. Some Alabama congressmen, however, think Florida should use the natural gas off its own coastline rather than those of its neighboring states.

The House voted by a narrow margin in June to retain a measure that attempts to block construction of the project (see NGI, July 2). By 213 to 210, the full House rejected a proposal by key members of the Florida delegation to remove the anti-Gulfstream measure from a $24 billion Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill that was later adopted. With the narrow victory, House lawmakers from producer states sent Florida a message: it could have Gulfstream to supply it with out-of-state natural gas, or it could continue its moratorium on offshore exploration and production, but it couldn't have both.

The vote was a major win for the Alabama delegation, particularly Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-AL), who dropped the anti-Gulfstream measure into the spending bill in retaliation for the Florida delegation's move to bar drilling off the state's coasts in an interior appropriations bill. The fact that Florida House lawmakers brought the offshore drilling measure up for a floor vote when the majority of Alabama's delegation was out of town only served to widen the rift between the two factions.

Although Callahan's Gulfstream measure survived floor debate, it still may not make it into the final bill. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young (R-FL), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has vowed to remove the section during conference on the legislation.

If the measure does pass, however, it would cease funding for FERC regulatory reviews of the project. "The real impact would be on future expansions and things like that," said Stockton. "Congressmen recognize that the project was just targeted to raise that issue at that given time and there's no merit or grounds for the opposition. The issue was drilling off the coast of Florida, and they achieved what they were setting out to achieve, which was to raise the debate. They reached a compromise on drilling. It was never really about the Gulfstream project. We're confident it will get pulled when it goes to conference."

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