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In the center of an Aug. 8 open house about the Bluegrass Pipeline, a group of women started singing “Amazing Grace.” The women, all members of the Loretto Community, continued to sing until a representative of the companies, accompanied by an Elizabethtown police officer, asked them to stop.
The Sisters of Loretto and their co-members carried signs encouraging people to say no to the pipeline during the open house at the Pritchard Community Center in Elizabethtown.
The open house was hosted by Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, who are hoping to build approximately 500 miles of pipeline to carry between 200,000 and 400,000 barrels of natural gas liquids from sites in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia across Ohio and Kentucky to connect to an existing pipeline, which runs from Hardinsburg, Ky., to the Gulf Coast.
“We’re here to answer questions. We’re here to listen and get input from residents,” said Tom Droege, a communications specialist for Williams.
Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly was among the Marion Countians who made the trip to Elizabethtown for the open house. Mattingly did not feel like the company officials answered his questions about the project.
“They kept directing me from one station to another,” Mattingly said.
Betty Kelty, a Loretto resident, felt similar about the open house.
“I came with three questions, and I still have three questions,” she said. “I’m not happy about it.”
Upon entering the open house, company representatives greeted people and asked them to sign in, which some people declined to do. Near the entrance to the open house, a table displayed a variety of products — plastic children’s toys, food containers, and a basketball — made using natural gas liquids.
Once inside, company representatives were available to answer questions at stations on topics such as construction, environment, land and safety.
(Digital versions of the information on display are available online at http://bluegrasspipeline.com/news/learn-more-at-our-august-open-houses/).
“We would encourage people who are still learning about this pipeline to get the facts,” Droege said.
According to the information provided by Williams and Boardwalk, they are seeking permission to survey property for possible easements to locate the pipeline. The easements would be for a 50-foot right of way through landowners’ property.
Droege said more than 90 percent of the property owners they have approached have given them permission to survey their property.
Pipeline opponents have raised concerns about potential risks if the natural gas liquids — which includes ethane, propane, butane, isobutane and methane — were to leak. Local opponents have frequently cited an incident in Parachute, Colo., to support their concerns.
KDVR (a Denver television station) reported that on March 8, benzene levels in the groundwater near a Williams’ gas facility. In April, KDVR reported that testing showed benzene levels up to 18,000 parts per billion in the water.
In nearby Parachute Creek, benzene levels were found around 3.3 parts per million; 5 parts per million is the state health limit for benzene, according to KDVR. (To watch and read KDVR’s report, go to http://goo.gl/6iT5Wl).
When asked about the Parachute situation, Droege noted that that was a gas treatment facility, not a pipeline, and he referred people to the company’s website about the Parachute leak, answersforparachute.com.
Droege added that the Bluegrass Pipeline project will create an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 jobs along the route, and communities have generally seen that as good news.
If the pipeline is put in place, it will be monitored three ways. First, the pipeline will be observed 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a central location in Oklahoma.
Second, air patrols will fly over the route once or twice a week and the entire route will be inspected every six months.
Droege said if natural gas liquids leaked and came to the surface, then the aerial inspectors would see that vegetation was dying.
Third, the company will use ‘pigging” to inspect the interior of the pipes every two months. (A video about “pigging” is available here: http://goo.gl/shoyXd.)
When asked about the geography of central Kentucky, with its numerous sinkholes, Droege said the company has worked in areas with similar geography.
“I would just like to emphasize the integrity of the pipeline. It’s built to withstand even earthquakes,” Droege said.
In addition to the environmental questions, many pipeline opponents are concerned the company may pursue eminent domain to force landowners to provide right of way. Company officials have said repeatedly that they would prefer to reach agreements with landowners along the pipeline route, but they would pursue eminent domain as a last resort.
Judge Mattingly said when he asked about eminent domain at the open house, he was told they believed the pipeline project would fall under a public use provision of the state’s eminent domain law.
Mattingly said the company officials told him that landowners could tap into the pipeline. When he asked how, he said he was told a manufacturing operation could connect to the pipeline to separate the natural gas liquids into its various components.
“I said, ‘That’s not really a public use,” he said.
Mattingly and representatives from the Loretto Community said they would have preferred to have more of a town hall meeting, where citizens could ask questions to company representatives in a public forum.
Alicia Ramsey, a Sister of Loretto, agreed.
“It seems to me it would have been better to get straight info about what they are doing,” she said.
Mattingly did speak with Wendell Hunt, a Williams company official, about the possibility of holding such a meeting in Marion County, but Mattingly did not seem confident that a meeting would happen.
He added that there’s no question that many people in Marion County are opposed to the project.
“I think they’re fearful of getting too much push back,” Mattingly said.
Special session issues
Gov. Steve Beshear has called for a special session of the Kentucky legislature starting Monday, Aug. 19, to discuss redistricting.
On Aug. 7, several pipeline opponents went to Frankfort to deliver a petition asking Beshear to add two items to the agenda for the special session that are related to the Bluegrass Pipeline.
The petition called for the legislature to amend state regulations to specifically include natural gas liquids and to amend the state’s eminent domain laws to prohibit private companies from invoking eminent domain.
Beshear has indicated he does not plan to include anything besides redistricting to the special session agenda.
State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, who supports adding the regulatory and eminent domain issues to the special session, was at the open house Thursday in Elizabethtown. He said he was there primarily to talk to constituents.
“I’m getting a lot of phone calls at home in opposition to it,” Higdon said.