FRANKFORT — Citizens presented a petition to Gov. Steve Beshear's secretary Tuesday asking the governor to oppose the use of eminent domain to secure easements for a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline.
About 36,250 signatures were presented to Debra Gall, a front-office assistant in the governor's office, said Sister Claire McGowan of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and executive director of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield.
"This petition represents the deep conviction of people of faith that it is our sacred duty to protect the land and the water and all the communities here in the commonwealth," McGowan said in presenting the petition.
Not all the signatures gathered in the online petition were from Kentucky, McGowan said. (She did not know the ratio between in-state and out-of-state signatures.) Tom Droege, a spokesman for Bluegrass Pipeline, noted that when asked for response by email.
"If others want to solicit opinions and support for their point of view from around the world via the internet, we certainly respect their right to do so, but we're continuing to focus on direct contact with Kentucky landowners about this project," Droege wrote.
The governor was in a meeting and did not see McGowan or the 37 other pipeline opponents who gathered and sang beforehand during a brief rally outside the Capitol.
Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners have proposed building a natural gas liquids pipeline through 13 Kentucky counties. The underground line would carry natural gas liquids from the Northeast to an existing connection in Kentucky that runs to the Gulf of Mexico.
The liquids are byproducts of the natural gas refining process used to make consumer products such as water bottles, plastics and carpet.
Citizens have expressed concerns about explosions or leaks that could pollute underground water supplies, given the karst topography that honeycombs the limestone under much of the region.
"We live in a place where our water supply is crucial," said Brad George, who lives in northern Franklin County. "If any kind of leak gets into that, we've got a real, live mess with that. I just don't want to see it happen."
Before the presentation of the petition, the Rev. David Whitlock, pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church, said the danger "of the proposed pipeline far exceeds the supposed benefits: short-term jobs, quick income and purchase of easements."
A lawyer for Boardwalk Pipeline Partners has said the use of eminent domain is rare and usually occurs with less than 2 percent of landowners.
But McGowan said the mere prospect of eminent domain, with a long court battle and associated legal fees, is enough to persuade some landowners to agree to sign easements.
"They're using it as a club to get an agreement right away," she said.
Beshear's office released a statement Tuesday saying, "The proposed Bluegrass Pipeline has created a great deal of concern and inquiry, and we understand that some Kentuckians are anxious about what this potential project may mean for their homes and property."
The statement said the governor's office is monitoring the issue closely, and the General Assembly is gathering information on the matter.
"If we find that there is a need for state government to take action to increase protections for our landowners and for the protection of our environment, we will have adequate time to do so in the regular session that begins in January," Beshear said.
Droege of Bluegrass Pipeline said "we are pleased with how our in-person conversations are going with Kentucky landowners. In approximately one month's time of making offers to purchase easements, we've accumulated over a quarter of the mileage (about 50 miles) needed in Kentucky for the project. We've had to hire additional land agents in Kentucky to keep up with the demand of landowners in the Commonwealth interested in discussing the easement process."
Droege wrote that "landowners will continue to own the land and can use the easement much as before — to grow crops, raise livestock and enjoy their land as they wish, in return for allowing us to bury the pipeline on a narrow 50-foot wide strip."
Droege said a pipeline is "the safest method there is to transport natural gas liquids."