Saturday, July 13, 2013

Scott County Pipeline Meeting - Dissecting the Media Spin

At a recent fiscal court meeting in Scott County Courthouse, Wendell Hunt, of Williams Company made several statements that we felt warranted a response and a fact check. He asserted that the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline would lessen America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East. 

The company has provided no explanation of how the Bluegrass Pipeline, which is designed for carrying NGLs to the Gulf for processing, would impact how much oil the US buys from the Middle East.  

"A pipeline is safer than transporting natural gas liquids by rail or truck," Hunt said. "Additionally, rail and trucking can be expensive," he said.

This is debatable. While there have historically been more incidents of accidents with trucking and rail transport, a single pipeline rupture releases a far greater volume of toxic NGLs. As a result, the results of a pipeline leak tend to cause more damage. Neither means of transport is an acceptable risk.  The public should not have to choose between:

  • Option A:  More frequent chances of disaster; or
  • Option B:  Fewer, more-catastrophic chances of disaster.

The purposes of this pipeline are to decrease transportation costs, increase the amount of NGLs transported, and possibly to provide more infrastructure to expand fracking. The Williams Company's concern is to increase profits.

“More than half the distance of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline is already built. That’s a masterful plan that would accelerate the timeline and lower the cost,” Williams Cos. Inc.’s website states.

Again, this is all about saving money for the Williams Company.  Large portions of the existing pipelines referred to were built years ago and were engineered for natural gas and not NGLs. There is very little government oversight of the "repurposing" of these pipelines because of regulatory gaps.  The safety of this plan is a significant concern.

“I know we’ve had some concerns, but we address those concerns early on,” Hunt said. 

It is unclear from this statement what Mr. Hunt meant. No public meetings were held until they were demanded by the public.  Many landowners reported they were contacted in isolation and that even public officials were unaware of the activity of the Williams Company in their areas.  

He s[Hunt] aid those involved with the pipeline do not want to be in an adversarial position with the landowners. “At this point, it’s only the survey that we’re asking for,” Hunt said.

For practical purposes, they already surveyed landowners' properties before they asked permission. They plotted the entire proposed route using satellite imagery and information on property boundaries from county PVAs.  Some attorneys contacted by this blog have indicated that consenting for the survey could make it easier for the company to support their argument for eminent domain. That said, it is NOT "just a survey." 

If the pipeline is constructed in parts of Scott County, pipeline employees will walk along the line, fly overhead and monitor it to ensure things are running smoothly, he said.

Other independent websites and news reports have documented that the company's safety record is a concern. One can easily find accounts of the company's history on the Internet, and there have been many leaks and ruptures. There have also been major explosions. In some cases, it has been alleged that the company was aware of problems before major incidents occurred, but they failed to correct them. 

Lawsuits are alleging that the company has not implemented adequate safety measures in their own facilities.  How likely is it that they'll do better at monitoring a pipeline that spans from Pennsylvania to Louisiana?  In other cases, such as the recent Parachute Creek incident, a pipeline leak was reportedly discovered by a construction crew, largely by accident, even though several state and federal agencies are charged with monitoring gas pipelines in the state. 

Stakeholders will be notified about the public meetings by letters, in newspapers and on the radio. “Every land owner who will be impacted will get a notification,” Hunt said.

Not just landowners will be impacted. Why is the general public, which also has a major stake in these decisions, being excluded? Also, why should the Williams Company be in control of the public meetings when it is not clear that they have eminent domain authority in Kentucky?

Hunt said companies in Kentucky would be able to use the pipeline for transportation as well, and said the pipeline could be perceived as a big railroad car.

Alarm bells should be going off in everyone's heads at this statement. What Kentucky companies would use an NGL pipeline? Only those engaged in large-scale fracking. It appears that Mr. Hunt is alluding to the possible future fracking spin-offs here in Kentucky after successful installation of this Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) pipeline.  

He talked further about the economic boom that could occur in Kentucky as new operations take advantage of the Bluegrass Pipeline.  This "common-carrier" pipeline, he said, could be opened-up to Kentucky-fracked NGL's. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea should read up on what's happening in Pennsylvania and the methane showing up in ground water.  

In many areas where fracking is occurring, water shortages and droughts are also occurring.  While the industry strongly denies it is causing droughts, the fact remains they are taking huge quantities of fresh water, adding chemicals and abrasives, blasting it into the earth's crust to release gas, and then injecting the resulting waste water back underground where it remains.  Water tables are reportedly being lowered. While it is true that this correlation does not prove causality, it is still possible that there is a link between fracking and drought.  Families and farmers are now in competition with big gas and oil for fresh water to survive.

Hunt said the dates, places and times of the public meetings would be announced soon. Additionally, planners of the pipeline plan to hold open houses for landowners. Williams is based in Tulsa, Okla., while Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP has primary offices in Houston, Texas, and Owensboro, according to the firm’s website,

Again, why is this company being permitted to proceed with this project as if they already have the authority to do so? This is something our government should be doing. To allow a private company to pick and choose what information it wants to share and to take control of communication with the public is to give them a position of power over citizens of the Commonwealth.