Monday, July 1, 2013

Nelson County Citizens Take Matters Into Their Own Hands

Stories, maps, reports of safety violations, photos of the destruction from gas line explosions were shared by Nelson County Citizens. County residents were eager to share with each other at a recent fiscal court meeting. They were building the case against the so-called “Bluegrass Pipeline.”

The representatives of Williams, the company trying to cut through Kentucky with the Bluegrass Pipeline, seemed unprepared for the research, preparation, and passion that Nelson County folks brought. Nearly 100 attended to learn more and let their fiscal court representatives know how they feel about the pipeline proposal.

Here are the main issues that surfaced:

The pipeline seems unwise, given the karst topography and the nearby fault line.

Mary Ann Chamberlain addressed her fellow landowners, reminding them of the “honeycomb” that makes up the geology of Nelson County and the surrounding areas. This honeycomb is made up of karst limestone, through which water flows freely.Mary Ann noted that the free flow of water would make a pipeline leak especially destructive. “The karst system would take centuries to clean up,” noted Mary Ann, quoting a state geologist she had conferred with. As another resident, Muncie McNamara, pointed out, “Our groundwater is what makes our bourbon good and our horses fast.You can’t pay enough to recover groundwater.”

Residents also pointed out that the karst wasn’t the only geologic concern. Stephen Howard, also from New Haven, said, “Ever since I was a kid we’ve been doing earthquake drills because we’re sitting on the New Madrid fault line.” Several residents were concerned about the impact of an earthquake on a potential pipeline carrying toxic natural gas byproducts through the groundwater that feeds the water supply.

Gas company representatives and surveyors have a problematic approach to persuading people to cooperate.  Landowners can always say no.

Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council assured landowners, “You should not be bullied into believing this is inevitable.”According to a number of landowners, some Williams representatives have been saying that Williams can run the pipeline through their land using eminent domain, if landowners refuse to lease.

They’re using similar tactics to get the right to survey land for the necessary environmental and geological studies. They’re asking (usually) for permission to survey across one’s land, offering $50 to $100 gift cards to people who agree. Sometimes they might not even mention they’re surveying for the pipeline. They’ve often, according to several landowners, placed the orange flags marking the proposed route, even before they ask for survey permission. If the company can’t get surveys for a chunk of the route, they can’t move forward.

Williams representatives have also played good cop, bad cop with landowners. Sonya Mousser Unnoppet, a landowner from New Haven whose family has been farming there for generations, has been talking with lots of her neighbors who’ve been approached, and a common theme is that the gas company reps are going to great lengths to be “neighborly” with landowners. They ask about the grandkids, call several times a day, and embed themselves in landowners lives. They use any combination of making the pipeline seem inevitable, making it seem like they’re doing landowners a favor by asking for their input, and advising landowners in how to get a better deal from Williams.

The gas company does not have the right to come onto property without permission from the landowner. Landowners should know that they can always refuse.

Williams does not like to talk about their shoddy safety record.

Mary Ann Chamberlain asked, “What will happen to the water in Nelson County if there is a rupture or leak in one of these NGL pipelines, as there was in Parachute, Colorado?”In April, Williams Energy leaked carcinogenic benzene into a creek that impacted a local water supply for two weeks before stopping the leak. Mary Ann asked, “If the water is contaminated, maybe the Williams company or somebody else will bring in plastic jugs of water for us? What about the cows and other livestock? I grew up on a dairy farm and know each cow drinks about 25 gallons a day. What about the crops that need to be irrigated?”

There are several such accidents in Williams’ file. They were also responsible for the Louisiana explosion a couple of weeks ago that killed two workers and injured more than seventy. It was a Williams natural gas line that exploded in West Virginia in March.One pipeline that they own in Washington had six leaks in eight years, according to Les Courtney from Covington, who has set up the Bluegrass Blockade facebook page. The list goes on and on.

Sonya ran through a list of Williams’ recent safety violations and explosions, summing up with, “I have all kinds of concerns about their safety… I hope my little kids – I have three of them – learn to love this land as much as I have.I don’t think we want to allow this natural gas liquid pipeline to run through our fields now, or ever.”

While several residents echoed these concerns, none of them were addressed by either of the Williams representatives.

Members and residents along the proposed route of the proposed pipeline are planning community meetings, fiscal court meetings, and screenings of Gasland and potentially Gasland 2 to encourage folks to engage. If you’d like to get involved with any of these efforts, get in touch with Jess Hays Lucas at 859-276-0563 or jessicabreen@kftc.org.  The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition has a great set of resources for you to learn more!