Nelson County Residents Cite Environmental, Safety Concerns With Proposed Pipeline

Representatives of a company that wants to build a natural gas liquids pipeline across Kentucky are beginning a public relations and information campaign in 13 counties. At a meeting in Nelson County this morning, they were met with anger, challenges and questions from local residents.

The proposed Bluegrass Pipeline would stretch from Pennsylvania through Ohio and Kentucky. The tentative route in Kentucky skirts Louisville and its adjacent counties, but could pass through parts of Bracken, Pendleton, Grant, Owen, Harrison, Scott, Franklin, Woodford, Anderson, Nelson, Larue, Hardin and Breckinridge counties.

If it’s built, the pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from drilling operations in Pennsylvania. These natural gas liquids—or NGLs—are a byproduct of natural gas drilling, and consist mainly of ethane, propane and butane. They’re common ingredients in products like car bumpers, adhesives and camera lenses. But they’re also highly flammable. Local residents are concerned about environmental contamination, as well as safety issues the project could pose.

The pipeline is a joint project between two companies: Boardwalk Partners and Williams. Boardwalk Partners already owns 600 existing miles of pipeline; Williams plans to construct the 500 remaining miles in Ohio and Kentucky to connect the drilling operations in the Northeast to the Gulf of Mexico.

Two Williams representatives attended the Nelson County Fiscal Court meeting this morning, and explained the company’s project. They say they’re approaching landowners now to get permission to survey, and don’t plan on using eminent domain. They do think they have eminent domain power under Kentucky law, but won’t know until they pursue that option and get a court ruling.

Robert Hawksworth of Williams said pipelines are the safest method of transportation in the country.

“There’s almost 3 million miles of pipelines in the United States,” he said. “Under the stats of the National Transportation Safety Board, pipelines are the safest, they’re the most reliable, they’re the most efficient way of transporting energy around the country, from one place to another.”

Hawksworth also spoke about the ways the company will monitor and recognize problems in the pipeline. But his assurances didn’t seem to do very much to sway the opinion of the Nelson County residents who signed up to speak at the meeting.

Many of their concerns stemmed from the environmental effects of the pipeline, and the ways a spill could affect the local ecosystem. Nelson County landowner Mary Ann Chamberlain says she spoke with the state geologist about the effects of a natural gas liquids spill in Nelson County, which has numerous karst features.

“The karst system will take centuries to be cleaned up,” Chamberlain said. “He said that subsurface liquids can travel a long way in a short time in limestone. The presence of sinkholes and caves opens up the possibility of contamination of the water.”

Some pointed out that parts of Nelson County are on the New Madrid fault line, and questioned the effect of an earthquake on the proposed pipeline. Others raised questions about Williams’ safety record. They cited a leak in a Williams-owned natural gas liquids pipeline in Colorado earlier this year; the pipeline leaked for 10 days without anyone noticing, releasing benzene into a creek. There was an explosion and a fire at a Williams-owned plant in Louisiana last week, killing two.

Marion Bischoff lives in Bardstown, and says he’s already been approached by land agents wanting to survey his land. He hasn’t given them permission, but was incredulous that the company’s compensation would seem adequate to anyone.

“The question I’ve got for the pipeline people is what in the world is in it for the landowner other than devaluing the value of the property when you come through?” he asked. “Their property’s going to be worthless. Period. Get paid a little money for something that you don’t want. And if it’s eminent domain, that is absolute B.S. Period.”

Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council also spoke, pointing out that natural gas liquids have relatively little oversight, compared to natural gas pipelines. Natural gas pipelines fall under the Natural Gas Act, while the NGL pipelines are regulated by the Interstate Commerce Act. FitzGerald says his organization is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to do a comprehensive environmental impact statement for the Bluegrass Pipeline, and could take them to court if they refuse.

A group called the Bluegrass Pipeline Blockade has also sprung up to oppose the pipeline.

Williams is aiming to get the Bluegrass Pipeline into service by the end of 2015, which would mean beginning construction by the second quarter of 2014. A company representative said today’s meeting was the first the company has attended in Kentucky, but they expect to meet with citizens in other counties that could be affected.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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