Upon consideration of revised and additional data, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken back its criticism of the Sabal Trail Pipeline, a project of Spectra Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc.

In October EPA raised multiple concerns about the project’s potential impacts on wetlands areas and sensitive limestone geology known as karst, which is prone to sinkholes (see Daily GPI, Oct. 28). However, in a letter dated Dec. 11 and posted to the FERC website on Tuesday, EPA outlined its rethinking of the project. The agency is almost a fan, judging by its praise for how the pipeline’s backers have worked to accommodate the environment.

“It is EPA’s understanding that some of the wetlands impact acreage for Sabal Trail identified in the DEIS [draft environmental impact statement] were not correct as a result of calculation issues, and according to the applicants, the total area of wetlands impacted during construction of the SMP [Southeast Markets Pipeline] Project is approximately 882 acres,” EPA said. Further, the agency said, only about 235 acres are expected to be permanently affected by operation of the pipeline.

SMP includes Sabal Trail as well as two other projects: Transcontinental Pipeline Co.’s Hillabee Expansion Project, and the Florida Southeast Connection project.

EPA also did an about-face on its assessment of the project backers’ mitigation measures to address Clean Water Act compliance. “The EPA has looked more closely at this aspect of the project, reviewed the route and the steps taken by the applicants during the development of the preferred alternative [route] and…believes that the applicants fully considered avoidance and minimization of impacts during the development of the preferred route.”

The agency gave another nod to the Sabal Trail applicants and their efforts to re-route the pipeline to accommodate environmental concerns. “Between November 2013 and September 2015, Sabal Trail evaluated and made numerous re-routings, many of which were specifically evaluated to address environmental, wetland and in some cases Environmental Justice concerns,” it said. “…[T]he applicants avoided the most sensitive karst features to avoid sinkhole development and other potential problems, protected species and habitat, utilized different construction techniques to minimize disruption to wetland areas, avoided conservation lands to the extent possible, and located facilities in non-wetland areas.”

Sabal Trail would run from a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. station in Tallapoosa County, AL, to serve Florida demand, particularly for gas-fired power generation. As planned, the pipeline would cross a dozen Florida counties, entering the state in Hamilton County and ending in Osceola County.

Spectra and NextEra won the bid to construct Sabal Trail for Florida Power & Light in 2013 (see Daily GPI, July 29, 2013). Service is planned to begin May 1, 2017, with 830,000 Dth/d of capacity, to be expanded later with compression additions.

An administrative law judge recently recommended that Florida regulators approve a permit for the pipeline over the objection of environmentalists (see Daily GPI, Dec. 14).