By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
LORETTO, Ky. — Religious communities and representatives of Catholic Charities are concerned about a proposed pipeline that would be routed through rural parts of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Kentucky Holy Land.
The Sisters of Loretto have been particularly active in opposing the Bluegrass Pipeline since they were approached in mid-July by a work crew hoping to survey their property in Marion County.
“We told them no,” said Sister Maria Visse, service coordinator for the Sisters of Loretto. “We have been on this piece of land since 1824 when Father (Stephen Theodore) Badin gave this land to the community. We really hold it to be sacred land, given its history and what goes on here.”
Visse said that’s not the only reason the sisters oppose the pipeline. They’re concerned about its safety and the safety record of its owner. And they say the geology of Kentucky — which includes a network of karst limestone and caves — makes a pipeline of this kind risky.
The pressurized pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to Louisiana. These highly flammable liquids include ethane, propane, butane, isobutane and pentanes, and they’re used to make plastic products and other items, according to those planning the pipeline.
It’s a project of Williams, a corporation based in Tulsa, Okla., and the Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, with offices in Houston, Texas, and Owensboro, Ky.
A map currently posted on the pipeline website, www.bluegrasspipeline.com, shows that it would be routed through 13 Kentucky counties, including Nelson, LaRue and Hardin counties. Marion County, where the Sisters of Loretto are located, isn’t noted on the map.
Tom Droege, who represents Williams, said in a phone interview Aug. 1 that the map on its website is the most current.
Monks at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Nelson County have been approached by a survey crew, as well. Sister Visse said they also denied the crew access to survey the monastery property.
The Sisters of Loretto have been going door to door to educate neighbors about the pipeline and handed out information at a parish picnic July 20.
They have also urged concerned citizens to sign a petition that asks Gov. Steve Beshear to place the pipeline on the agenda for the special session of the General Assembly this month. Petition signers want legislators to require the project to be studied and limit the use of eminent domain. The petition was to be presented during a demonstration in Frankfort, Ky., yesterday.
Sister Visse said the community is concerned that Williams would take land by force through eminent domain if landowners refuse to reach an agreement with the pipeline owners.
Williams’ Droege said the company would use eminent domain as a last resort, but noted landowners who agree would be paid a fair market value for an easement on their land. The landowners would continue to own and use the land as usual after the pipeline is in place, he said.
Visse said a one-time payment would benefit a few for a short time, but in general, the pipeline would add no benefit to Kentucky and would bring great risk to all Kentuckians.
“We are an aging community; it’s not like we wouldn’t like the income,” she noted. But, she said, “We can’t take the chance of contaminating our property and surrounding areas with the pipeline.”
Droege said in an email, “The proposed Bluegrass Pipeline is being designed with safety as its top priority” and said its design features and the company’s operating practices adhere to the Department of Transportation’s guidelines under Title 49 CFR Part 195.
He also said, “Pipelines are the safest, most reliable and efficient manner of transporting energy products. Statistics gathered by the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency, indicate that less than one one-hundredth of one percent (.01%) of all transportation accidents in the United States are related to pipelines.”
Sister Visse said she’s concerned about Williams’ safety record and noted that the company has been cited for a variety of safety violations, including an incident involving a pipeline in Colorado earlier this year.
In April, the Associated Press reported, thousands of gallons of benzene and other liquid gases seeped into the ground near Parachute Creek, a waterway in Parachute, Colo., that feeds into the Colorado River. The leak — or “seep” as it was officially characterized — was discovered accidentally after it had “generated 5,900 gallons of loose liquid hydrocarbons and nearly 180,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater,” according to the story.
Droege was quoted in that AP story as saying, unless the leaking liquid gas or oil “would have come up to the surface, or a pipeline lost pressure, there’s no other way to my knowledge to know if there’s a leak.”
Several organizations are working to educate the public about the pipeline. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are writing letters to the editor and circulating information, as is New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, a Washington County organization led by Dominican Sister Claire McGowan.
Sister of Mercy Mary Schmuck of Catholic Charities sent information sheets to a variety of church groups earlier this week to help educate people about the pipeline, too. Among the materials is information for landowners about their rights; a map of Kentucky’s caves and sinkholes; a backgrounder from the Kentucky Resources Council and information about Williams’ safety record.
Williams is planning an information session about the pipeline today, Aug. 8, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Elizabethtown, Ky., at the Pritchard Community Center, 404 S. Mulberry St.