A proposed natural gas liquids pipeline could cross through up to 18 Kentucky counties.
The Bluegrass Pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from drilling operations in Pennsylvania to processing plants on the Gulf Coast. These natural gas liquids—or NGLs—that could travel through the pipe 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.
The proposal is a joint venture between two companies: Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. Sixty percent of the proposed pipeline is already in the ground; it was built for other projects. But the builders are proposing 600 miles of new construction, stretching through Ohio and Kentucky.
Williams spokesman Tom Droege says that will help reduce the project’s environmental footprint.
“We’re doing it in a smart way,” he said. “Sixty percent of this pipeline is already in the ground. We’re repurposing an existing pipeline and by doing that, we’ll be able to put it into service sooner, and we can also significantly reduce the construction footprint and any impact to the environment during construction.”
But that’s during construction. Any kind of pipeline for fossil fuels raises questions about the environment—both in the place where it’s extracted (in this case, by hydraulic fracturing) and during transport, if it was to leak. There's potential for explosions, because the gases are flammable.
Droege says that's true, but a pipeline is a safer way to transport the NGLs than either rail or truck.
“And as far as safety goes, Williams’ highest priority is the safety of its employees and the public,” he said. “The pipeline will be inspected, it will be tested and monitored to ensure its integrity.”
The proposed route through Kentucky could include up to 18 counties, including Henry, Shelby, Spencer, Bullitt and Nelson. The new construction will end in Breckinridge County, where there’s an existing interconnect in Hardinsburg.
Droege says company representatives will be deployed this week to meet with elected officials along the proposed route, and surveyors are already in the field asking landowners for survey permission.
For more information about the pipeline's phases, and what landowners can expect, I spoke with Craig Vandervoort. He's an attorney based in Lancaster, Ohio who's had experience dealing with pipelines, and he and a colleague are marketing themselves online to landowners potentially affected by the Bluegrass Pipeline.
Vandervoort says there are three phases of the pipeline:
During this phase, the companies are trying to identify their primary route. Right now, the route they’ve marked across Kentucky is very wide, including 18 counties. The actual pipeline won’t be that large, but to figure out the best route, the companies have sent land agents out to the counties asking for permission to survey land.
Vandervoort says the surveyors are looking for two things: routes that follow existing transmission corridors (pipelines or electric lines), and routes that are feasible, and don’t involve tearing down houses. “Now, that does result in the farmers getting picked on,” Vandervoort said. “Because if they don’t want to mess with the houses, they tend to run across the agricultural properties.”
He says that if landowners haven’t been contacted to get permission to survey, there’s nothing to worry about right now. But routes do change. Vandervoort suggests not to slam the door on surveyors; granting permission for a survey doesn’t mean that they’re giving permission for the pipeline to cross their land. This is their opportunity to say, ‘look, if I end up in this route and you need to go across my property, I would much prefer you to be in this portion instead of this portion.’ And that’s where communicating with the company does pay huge benefits.”
The pipeline company has identified their primary route, and land agents make landowners offers. They’ll bring the landowner a proposed easement, describing what rights they want to purchase across their property. The company will need right of way for the pipeline, which will be about 50 feet wide. They’ll also need temporary workspace to use for vehicle traffic while the pipeline is under construction.
The agent will also present a detailed proposal with what the company is willing to pay. “At the same time that they have shown the right of way, if it is an agricultural property, they will also make an initial offer as far as what the crop damage is expected to be, and they will try to prepay for the crop damage,” Vandervoort said.
So, what if you refuse?
Vandervoort suggests communicating early on with the company, starting with the surveyors. “If it could be easily rerouted around your property and that would make you happier, express that as early as possible,” he said. “Unfortunately the reality of this project may be that even if a landowner is absolutely successful in this not being on their property, the potential downside is it may be on the other side of the fence line, right next to your property. And you weren’t compensated at all.”
If the pipeline company decides it absolutely needs access to a certain piece of property and the landowner isn’t cooperative, they can seek eminent domain, either under federal or state law. Vandervoort says he’s heard through several land agents that the company will apply with the Federal Energy Rate Commission to make the pipeline a FERC project. If that happens, they can use the federal eminent domain law to take uncooperative landowners to court. “That is not a favorable position for the landowner,” he said. “For most of the people we work with, we highly recommend negotiating with the intention to avoid being sued.”
Not surprisingly, Vandervoort recommends that landowners who have been approached by surveyors find a lawyer to represent them in the process.