Pipeline debate headed to E'town

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Williams hosting open house to discuss merits of controversial project

By Marty Finley

An Oklahoma pipeline company proposing a controversial natural gas liquid pipeline to run through a series of Kentucky counties, including southern Hardin County, will make its case  Thursday for the route during an open house in Elizabethtown.

Tom Droege, spokesman for Williams, a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, said the event is from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Pritchard Community Center and is formatted to give residents face time with experts in fields such as construction, routing, safety and environmental issues.

Tables will be assembled with information on different facets of the pipeline, and visitors can come and go as they please. Instead of a formal question-and-answer session, visitors can have personal conversations with Williams professionals to get their questions answered, Droege said.

The pipeline has come under fire by landowners who fear the pipeline could have negative impacts on public safety, health and the environment while also lowering property values.

Droege said the company will act in full compliance with all applicable federal and state environmental, safety and health regulations and will construct the line out of state-of-the-art materials featuring a 24-hour monitoring system and software that can detect leaks.

“Safety is our highest priority,” he said.

But opponents have questioned Williams’ commitment, pointing to a series of documented explosions, leaks and fines for action, including lack of monitoring, over several years.

Droege said there are thousands of miles of pipeline underneath the ground today transporting natural gas liquids and natural gas because they are essential to the economy while being the safest option.

NGLs are hydrocarbons and their composition typically includes propane, ethane, butane, pentane and hexane which are separated in a process known as fractionating. The resulting products can be used by petrochemical manufacturers to produce plastics, fuels and even feedstock.

The pipeline will travel from gas fields in West Virginia and Pennsylvania through more than a dozen Kentucky counties — including large sections of Hardin and LaRue counties — into Breckinridge County, according to a map on Williams’ website.

Williams intends to link with an existing pipeline in Hardinsburg owned by Houston-based Boardwalk Pipeline Partners that extends to the Gulf Coast.

Hardin County landowner Sara Pitney said she will attend the meeting with an open mind but does not expect Williams to dissuade her. Pitney and her husband, Steve, own a farm of several acres near Hardinsburg.

“We don’t want it,” Steve Pitney said flatly.

Steve Pitney said even a small leak could seep into the groundwater and greatly compromise the interlinked streams and rivers in Hardin County or even infiltrate Rough River. His wife envisioned a scenario where a flood could backwash contamination into water treatment plants and spoil local drinking water.

Beyond that, the couple lives in lowlands surrounded by hills and said a nearby leak would endanger their lives because the liquids housed inside the pipeline are odorless and colorless.

“I’d be toast,” Steve Pitney said.

Land agents for Williams are seeking permission to access properties for surveys, but the Pitneys refused. Opponents have instructed others to do the same or rescind permission.

Some opponents are worried the company may try to use eminent domain to legally condemn properties where easements are refused, but Tom FitzGerald, director of the nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council, does not believe Williams has the authority to do so.

Droege said Williams successfully has worked with thousands of landowners to gain easements on other pipelines and said eminent domain is an “absolute last resort.”

The Pitneys’ farm includes a cave and they are concerned about the impact a pipeline could have on the conservation of Kentucky’s karst topography, which includes underground streams and limestone.

“That’s no place to put a pipeline,” Steve Pitney said.

The Pitneys said they have been working diligently to return their property back to nature so the pipeline is a “slap to our face.”

They joined opponents primarily from LaRue, Marion and Nelson counties for a rally at Hodgenville City Hall last week but said they were disturbed by the lack of public outrage in their home county.

“I just wish those in Hardin County (opposed to the pipeline) would show themselves and make themselves known,” Sara Pitney said.

State Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, has heard from constituents about the pipeline and has concerns of his own, but he wants to hear from the pipeline’s creators before he makes a judgment, he said. He plans to meet personally with pipeline representatives and attend Thursday’s meeting. He said legislators around the state owe it to their constituents to be informed on the issue.

Gov. Steve Beshear has opted not to add state regulations for the pipeline to a called special legislative session later this month because its contentious nature could distract from the goal of legislative redistricting.

Parrett said he agrees with Beshear’s assessment and believes there is nothing so pressing about the issue to prevent the legislature from waiting to take it up in January.

There is little federal oversight of NGL pipelines and local governments have no authority to stop them, but Parrett said he believes the state should have some standing to implement regulations.

Droege said Williams has pledged to be respectful to the land and replace any ground they disturb.

“We feel once people are armed with the facts, they’ll feel better,” he said.

Organizers of a rally against the pipeline last week in Hodgenville encouraged opponents to attend the open house, saying they needed to be there to retort Williams’ talking points and selected experts.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.