New Pioneers launch anti-pipeline campaign

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By Geoff Hamill

Even though a planned natural gas liquids (NGLs) pipeline is not supposed to pass through Washington County, a local environmental group wants to make sure residents are aware of both the risks and their rights. The New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future launched a public awareness campaign with a public meeting at the Springfield Opera House last Tuesday night.

The non-profit New Pioneers were founded in Washington County in 2005. The group seeks to promote sustainable thinking and sustainable development in order to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.

Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, L.P., plans to build a pipeline from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, stretching across Ohio and Kentucky to Hardinsburg, near the Ohio River. The 24-inch pipeline will connect to an existing pipeline and transport NGLs to petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast. The company plans to build the pipeline through Nelson County, along the boundary with Washington County, and put the pipeline into service in late 2015.

NGLs are hydrocarbons in the same family of molecules as natural gas and crude oil, including ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and pentane. NGLs are used in the manufacture of plastics, burned for space heat and cooking, and blended into vehicle fuel. Williams and Boardwalk states the planned pipeline will have an eventual capacity of 400,000 barrels per day.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, New Pioneers Executive Director Sister Claire McGowan characterized the pipeline as a threat.

“Tonight, we’ve gathered out of concern for our place,” she said. “We’ve gathered because there’s a new thing going on that could threaten our place – our beloved and beautiful tri-county area here in central Kentucky. This new threat has been named the ‘Bluegrass Pipeline’ – it snatched that name, too.”

Guest speaker Dr. Mary Ann Chamberlain, a retired Nelson County teacher and principal, said Williams and Boardwalk had been mostly unresponsive to Nelson County residents’ requests for information.

“For several months, the Nelson County Fiscal Court tried to get someone from the Williams company to answer our questions,” she said. “The first time, they didn’t even let us know they weren’t coming. The second time, they let us know a day ahead of time they weren’t coming. The last time, they did come, but they didn’t have information for us. So, we have had a hard time gathering information.”

Chamberlain shared what she had learned about NGLs.

“They’re expensive to handle; they’re expensive to store and they’re expensive to transport, compared to refined products,” she said. “They require high pressure and low temperature to maintain their liquid state for shipment. They’re classified as hazardous liquids by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – and for good reason.”

The speaker said pipeline partner Williams has a history of safety violations.

“You may have heard about that chemical plant in Louisiana, a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “That was a Williams plant that exploded. [The pipeline] is supposed to travel through 18 Kentucky counties. It will be buried three feet under. The control center is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They’re able to sit at computers and check for pressure. Why is it coming through the countryside? They want to avoid populated areas. We saw what happened in a populated area with the hydrocarbons. It’s dangerous stuff.”

Chamberlain said the potential for water pollution was most alarming, especially in light of the area’s vulnerable karst geology. The speaker urged attendees to review information at naturalgaswatch.org to learn more about pipeline dangers and Williams’ safety record.

Guest speaker Mike Zoeller, a member of the Nelson County Planning Commission, said landowners need to be aware of their rights and understand how a pipeline easement will affect their property value. Zoeller said landowners are under no obligation to allow pipeline company workers on their land for any reason.

The commissioner said a standard lease presented by Williams and Boardwalk is very favorable to the company and takes away much control of the land from the landowner. Zoeller said a pipeline easement invariably reduces property values, degrades the marketability of property, and could affect insurance premiums.

During a question and answer session, State Senator Jim Higdon answered questions regarding the use of eminent domain to obtain pipeline easements for a privately-owned company.

Higdon said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government can use eminent domain to transfer private property rights to another private party, if the transfer is in the public interest. However, the senator added that the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law in 2006 that greatly limits this use of eminent domain power.

“The bill, in response to the Supreme Court’s Kelo case, prohibits the condemnation of private property unless it will be used for an exclusive public use, such as a government purpose, public utilities or to eliminate blighted areas,” he said. “There’s no blighted areas in Nelson County. There’s no blighted areas in Washington County.”

In a handout distributed at the meeting, the New Pioneers claim, “The company proposing the pipeline states that it can invoke eminent domain if landowners do not cooperate. Eminent domain is for public interest. This project is only for the private profit benefit of the company. “

Chamberlain said Williams and Boardwalk plans to export all NGLs transported by the Bluegrass Pipeline. The retired principal said the pipeline company removed all references to exports from its website, after being confronted with the information.

New Pioneers operates a website at newpioneerssf.org. Williams and Boardwalk publishes pipeline information at bluegrasspipeline.com.  A video of highlights from the July  9 public meeting can be seen at thespringfieldsun.com.