Local citizens are gradually hearing about a proposed Bluegrass Pipeline to run through Nelson County on its way from Pennsylvania and New York to the Gulf. It might be helpful to lay out some of the issues from the perspective of community sustainability.
First of all, what will the pipeline carry? Kentucky has lots of pipelines carrying oil and natural gas, but this would be the first to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs). NGLs are what’s left over once natural gas is harvested from the new energy venture in the northeast by the process called “fracking.” We’ll come back to that word, but NGL’s include ethane, butane, propane, methane, and solid chemicals. Unless maintained under high pressure, these are highly flammable and extremely explosive. They are also extremely toxic to living beings.
“Fracking” (short for hydraulic fracturing) is a process of drilling a well deep down into the earth’s crust so that a highly-pressurized mixture of water, sand, and 500 undisclosed chemicals can be injected and then spewed horizontally over distances to fracture the bedrock, forcing the release of encapsulated natural gases and liquids. It takes a million gallons of water to supply each well; tens of thousands of “fracking” wells already exist and more are being opened weekly in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. The natural gas industry runs daily TV ads to remind us how fortunate we are to have such a fine new source of “cheap” abundant energy.
Personally, I am not enthusiastic about “fracking.” For one thing, the wisdom of busting up the underpinnings of the earth’s crust seems questionable. Then there is fresh water, which is growing scarcer every year on our planet. Ruining a million gallons of precious water per well with toxic chemicals doesn’t seem like a great idea. Pushing a million gallons of poisoned water through the underground and back up to the surface doesn’t seem wise either. But once that water has accomplished its fracking task, what can be done with it thereafter? Energy companies are running out of “ponds” to store toxic water. It is reported that companies are trying to buy spent coalmines in eastern Kentucky to store fracking water. How wise an idea is that, given that so many of key waterways start in eastern Kentucky?
Fracking aside, how about this pipeline? It will carry 400,000 barrels daily of highly pressurized explosive liquids. It will be buried three feet down and must pass under the Ohio River and all other waterways. Central Kentucky’s geology is largely karst, limestone rock that dissolves into underground caves and sinkholes. Questions exist about the stability of karst for a heavy pipeline and the safety of groundwater should the pipes leak. Think about the devastating effects on water for local distilleries!
Questions also exist about our proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone, with its 90 percent probability of a severe earthquake in the next 50 years.
To maintain high pressure, the company would have pumping stations every 10 to 30 miles, according to its website. Pumps run constantly on diesel fuel, creating air and noise pollution nearby.
Perhaps today’s engineers and technologies are so developed that these risks could be minimized by a highly responsible pipeline company. The website naturalgaswatch.org casts doubt that the Oklahoma company planning to build this pipeline qualifies as such. Recent pipeline safety violations listed include: a massive pipeline explosion in Alabama, failure to inspect compressor stations in Texas and Louisiana, failure to control external pipeline corrosion in New York City, leaking thousands of gallons of NGLs into groundwater in Denver, and ruptures of pipelines in New Jersey and West Virginia. Reports from local landowners indicate that company representatives are rapidly knocking on doors and flagging survey lines along the route while company officials have been slow to present information to the public in the counties involved.
The Bluegrass Pipeline risks much of what makes central Kentucky dear to us: beautiful landscape, abundant water, healthy air, peaceful quiet and sense of security from unexpected disasters.
Benefits? A few temporary construction jobs and one-time payments to relatively few landowners. Will we accept this risk-benefit ratio to provide profits to big corporations on petrochemicals they’ll export to China and India?
Sister Claire, a Bardstown resident, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace community at St. Catharine.