Bluegrass Pipeline, LLC. is a joint venture of Williams Company and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. If built, the 24 inch, pressurized pipeline will be used to carry liquid by-products of the fracking operations from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions in the Northeast to storage and export facilities in Louisiana, where much of it will be likely sold to plastic manufacturers in foreign markets . It will use sections of existing gas pipeline which will be “re-purposed” to carry chemicals such as propane, butane, and ethylene along with the newly built sections that will run through Kentucky and Ohio, into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Many , many people in Kentucky--mostly in the 13 counties where new construction of pipeline is to occur, have very serious concerns about this project, and do not want it built here due to the likely negative impact it will have on Kentucky’s land and water resources. As a result, several groups consisting of landowners and environmentalists have formed to protest the construction of the pipeline. In addition, ten of the thirteen counties have passed resolutions against building the pipeline and using imminent domain to steal landowners‘ property, and in Frankfort, lawmakers in both the senate and the house have drafted legislation that will stop the pipeline form being built in Kentucky, if passed. More about this at the end of the diary, and how you can help TODAY by calling some of Kentucky’s elected officials in support of legislation that will protect Kentucky‘s landowners and bring this project to a halt…
For now, I would like to get back to why this pipeline is bad for every living thing living along it--but especially why it is incredibly stupid and reckless on the part of Bluegrass Pipeline, LLC to build in the areas of Kentucky they have proposed… and that is our natural geology. Remember a few weeks ago when part of the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green was swallowed up by a sinkhole? In some of the parts of Kentucky where the pipeline will run, we have what is called “karst” geology, meaning, in simple terms, that the ground is riddled with a lot of limestone caves and underground streams, the largest of which is Mammoth Cave. Any spill or leak could easily contaminate the groundwater for miles around, as well as creating underground pockets of explosive chemicals. And if the ground happened to shift or a sinkhole developed near the pipeline, it could easily cause the thing to snap. The pipeline will also cross dozens of streams and creeks in the region--potentially contaminating miles of waterways should even a small leak occur. And then there is the fact that the pipeline will run near the seismically active New Madrid fault zone--while a major earthquake may be unlikely, several smaller tremors occur each year, and given the rather unstable nature of the ground anyway, any fool can see how this could substantially elevate the risk of a leak.
In addition, the pipeline will use existing stretches of pipe that are believed to be just as old as the one that exploded in Adair County on Valentine's day a little over a week ago, sending two people to the hospital. The explosion left a 50 foot hole in a nearby road, destroyed at least two homes and a barn, and burned five acres of nearby woods. Nobody seems to know how the aging existing pipelines will hold up to being “repurposed” considering the fact that they will be used to carry different chemicals than ones they were originally engineered for. In addition, some of the existing sections of pipeline are very close to some rather densely populated areas, and no one seems to be talking about the risk such an explosion could pose to the people living along the pipeline. The new stretches of pipeline aren’t going to be that well constructed either--it will be made of pipes formed from sheet metal that is turned into cylinders and welded along their entire length, instead of the more expensive molded pipe, increasing the risk of leaks.
Indeed, Williams Co. has a very spotty track record when it comes to safety issues, as they have had several accidents since 2003, for which they have been fined millions of dollars. They also had to pay out $290 million dollars to settle a class action lawsuit that was filed against them in 2002. They were responsible for the widely publicized gas explosion in 2008 in Appomattox, Virginia that destroyed two homes and damaged 100 others. They have also been fined numerous times for safety violations, and were also fined $20 million in 2002 for reporting false data in order to manipulate the US gas market.
Proponents of the Bluegrass Pipeline like to talk about the “economic impact” the pipeline will have on Kentucky. The truth of the matter is that while it will indeed create many temporary construction jobs-they are just that--temporary. The pipeline will only permanently employ about 30 people in the State of Kentucky once it is built. In addition, the extra tax revenue generated by the new sections of pipeline (we won’t likely get any new tax revenue out of the existing sections) will be minimal, considering what a major leak or spill could cost the taxpayers of this state to clean up. While their website claims the pipeline will generate millions in tax revenue, the person I talked to this morning at the State Dept of Revenue was unable to give me even a ballpark figure of how much new tax money would be generated. And believe me, we’ll be the ones to pay for it--just like with nearly every other major environmental accident, Big Energy likes to privatize the profit--and socialize the losses. I’ve heard more than one activist speculate that the way they set up the company--as an LLC--is a means for the partners to avoid liability should a major accident occur.
Another major issue surrounding the Bluegrass Pipeline is that of property rights, and whether a company such as Bluegrass Pipeline LLC can invoke imminent domain in order to seize property owners land. The company, based on their public statements, seem to believe that they can, despite the fact that the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet says they can’t use ’condemnation” as a means of gaining access to property owners’ land. A lawsuit has been filed by Kentuckians United to Restrain Imminent Domain in Franklin County on behalf of a landowner who claims she was threatened with condemnation when she refused to sell a right of way to Bluegrass Pipeline LLC.
I cannot help but be reminded of the tricks the coal barons of old used to trick, bully, and intimidate the farmers and landowners of eastern Kentucky into selling their mineral rights. They have given charitable donations to a number of local organizations in order to purchase the loyalty of the people and major organizations in these counties and pressure landowners into selling out. There have also been reports from some activists that they have been engaging in more underhanded means of manipulating the public--a number of individuals in the state claim they have received calls survey type calls that seem to be screening for individuals who can be manipulated into saying they approve of the project. When I traced the number that was shared with me, it seemed to connect to a fly-by-night telemarketing firm in New York(as of December, this outfit was allegedly calling on behalf of AARP, and some of the people who talked with them believe it was a scam.)
The landholders who sell out and grant the pipeline a right of way will still have to pay taxes on their land, and will still be responsible for any mortgage payment on it. They can also be held liable for any damage to their neighbor’s property should an accident occur. So while many landholders may be unable to resist getting a chunk of change right now, the potential liability is enormous. And given this company’s history, the landowners and taxpayers will likely be left holding the bag should an accident occur.
At the state level, legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and the House that would clarify Kentucky law and protect landowners from imminent domain abuse by big energy companies. (see Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 31.) According to company officials, passage of HB 31 would make the project too expensive for them to build. And TOMORROW, the House Judiciary Committee votes on whether or not to allow HB 31 to move forward, so we need everyone who can--most especially those of you living in Kentucky--to call your state legislators, and especially the members of the house Judiciary Committee, to tell them to support this bill.
Here’s how you can contact members of the Kentucky state legislature…I believe we can put a stop to the Bluegrass Pipeline! Here's a few good resources for more information:
Who's My Legislator--find the Senator and House Rep for your area
Call the Legislative office in Frankfort--(502) 564-8400
Call the Legislative Message Line--(800) 372-7181 This line is open from 7 am to 11 pm Monday through Thursday and is open till 6 pm on Friday.
Here's a link to a pdf that has full contact informationfor each member of the KY House Judiciary Committee.