Fayette County

Bluegrass Pipeline opponents brace for the possibility of more pipeline proposals

Kentucky opponents of the pipeline included the Sisters of Loretto, who put up this sign last year in front of the motherhouse in Nerinx.
Kentucky opponents of the pipeline included the Sisters of Loretto, who put up this sign last year in front of the motherhouse in Nerinx. Herald-Leader

Plans for the Bluegrass Pipeline were halted in April, but opponents of other natural gas liquids pipelines aren't stopping to rest.

A meeting Saturday in Lexington will focus on issues surrounding natural gas liquids, landowner rights and what local governments can do to protect their citizens.

Billed as "The Pipelines, Fracking and Kentucky's Future Beyond Fossil Fuels Summit," the meeting will be held at Locust Trace AgriScience Center on Leestown Road.

Organizer Chris Schimmoeller of Franklin County said she anticipates that 100 or more people will attend.

"We've got 60 solid (advance registrants), and other people have told me they're coming," she said.

"After we defeated the Bluegrass Pipeline, we realized that other pipelines are coming down the pike," Schimmoeller said. "We wanted to hold an event to help educate our neighbors about this. We didn't want to just go back to our own backyards and feel satisfied."

Bluegrass Pipeline was a joint venture of Boardwalk Pipeline Partners and the Williams Cos. Inc. to bring natural gas liquids from Pennsylvania to Gulf Coast processing plants.

That pipeline would have gone through 13 Kentucky counties before connecting with existing pipelines in Breckinridge County. From there, the liquids would have headed south in an existing pipe.

Bluegrass Pipeline would have carried flammable ethane, propane, butane, isobutene and pentane liquids used by the agriculture, petrochemical and plastics industries and for home heating.

During public meetings, residents expressed concerns about explosions or leaks that could pollute underground water sources, given the karst topography that honeycombs the limestone under much of the region.

After much debate and a Franklin Circuit Court ruling that said the companies could not use eminent domain to take private property for construction, Boardwalk and Williams announced in April that they were suspending plans for Bluegrass Pipeline.

If there was any remaining doubt about the project, Boardwalk president and CEO Stanley Horton said this week that, "with regard to Bluegrass, we have agreed with (Williams Cos. Inc.) to dissolve those related joint ventures."

But other projects have been proposed that would affect Kentucky.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and MarkWest Utica EMG LLC announced plans last year to convert 1,000 miles of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. It carries natural gas from Greenup County in northeastern Kentucky through Morehead and Campbellsville to the Tennessee line. The plan is to convert or "repurpose" that line to transport natural gas liquids.

And therein is a dilemma. Bluegrass Pipeline was a brand new line that required the companies to negotiate and acquire easements in face-to-face meetings with landowners and then spend millions to build the line.

"With the Tennessee gas line, they already have easements in place that are probably pretty broadly written to let the company get by with changing the substance that flows through the pipe," Schimoeller said.

The proposed conversion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline would require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the transmission of natural gas. A spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday that no application had yet been filed for conversion of the pipeline.

Other projects could be coming. A drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has unlocked vast gas reserves in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That controversial practice pumps water and chemicals underground to break up shale rock and release the natural gas that lies inside.

"It is booming right now," Schimmoeller said." The fact is, they're going to be producing a lot more, and they have to get these liquids to the Gulf Coast refineries. So there will very likely be other pipeline proposals, and Kentucky just needs to be educated and prepared. We're hoping to get some public officials at this summit to educate them about what is possible within the parameters of state law to safeguard people."

Workshops and presentations at the Lexington summit will look at fracking in Kentucky, the possibilities of renewable energy, and landowner rights.

Schimoeller said it was exciting to work with a grass-roots effort to speak out against the Bluegrass Pipeline.

"I hope we are able to continue a robust discussion with a larger group, that the discussion extends beyond that conversation that started among citizens in those 13 counties," she said. "I hope it extends to more people in Kentucky so we can create a more broad network who understand what this is about."