Monday, January 27, 2014

Pipeline explosion shuts off gas to 4,000 residents in sub-zero temperature

TransCanada Pipeline Explosion Shuts Off Gas For 4,000 Residents In Sub-Zero Temperatures

"TransCanada Pipeline Explosion Shuts Off Gas For 4,000 Residents In Sub-Zero Temperatures"
A natural gas pipeline operated by TransCanada Corp. exploded and caught fire in the Canadian province of Manitoba on Saturday, shutting off gas supplies for as many as 4,000 residents in sub-zero temperatures.
“We could see these massive 200- to 300-meter high flames just shooting out of the ground and it literally sounded like a jet plane,” resident Paul Rawluk told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Watch a video of the explosion here:
There were no injuries and the area was evacuated as a precaution, according to the National Energy Board. TransCanada said the fire was extinguished by Saturday afternoon, more than 12 hours after it started, but in order to repair the line, they shut off the natural gas supply to several municipalities.
Temperatures dropped to -20 degrees Celsius overnight.
Niverville Deputy Mayor John Funk said that “service is expected to be lost for minimum of 24 hours to multiple days” in a statement on the town’s website. Funk also said that “Manitoba Hydro is asking residents to turn down thermostats and minimize use of electric heaters.”
There is no timeline for restoring regular natural gas services so in the interim, compressed natural gas is being trucked in to the area. “The initial supply will be used to provide gas to critical services such as personal care homes and hospitals, as well as schools or churches being used as emergency warming centers,” the CBC reported.
TransCanada has also been pushing for the approval of its controversial Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Oil began flowing through the southern leg of the pipeline this week and in a conference call marking the announcement, CEO Russ Girling called Keystone XL “the safest oil pipeline built in America to date.”
As of November, TransCanada had already fixed 125 sags and dents in the southern leg of the pipeline, according to a report by non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen. And while Girling told reporters on this week’s conference call that the company had “voluntarily agreed” to 57 conditions with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Jeffrey Weise, the agency’s head of pipeline safety, said last year that his agency “has very few tools to work with” and as a result, the regulatory process he oversees is “kind of dying.”
Indeed, a Wall Street Journal analysis released this week found that people discover pipeline spills far more often than the leak-detection technology touted by companies. Based on PHMSA data for 251 pipeline incidents over four years, the WSJ found that nearby residents or company employees were nearly three times as likely to detect a pipeline leak. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring, on the other hand, discovered leaks just 19.5 percent of the time.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Texas supreme court to hear more before ruling on eminent domain for KXL pipeline southern portion

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AUSTIN, Tex. – The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of landowner Julia Trigg Crawford, ordering TransCanada to submit information by Feb. 6 as the justices weigh arguments to hear the case regarding eminent domain abuse.
Texas’s highest court delivered a clear victory for pipeline opponents and landowners fighting TransCanada’s overreach on property rights. At the heart of Crawford’s case is the ability of TransCanada, a foreign corporation, to use eminent domain under the state’s “common carrier” clause since their pipeline transports 90% Canadian tar sands and 10% North Dakota oil. There is no on ramp for Texas oil therefore violating the definition of a common carrier under Texas law.
Crawford said she looks forward to her family’s day in court. “As a landowner, property rights are key to my livelihood and family legacy," she said. "A foreign corporation pumping foreign oil simply does not qualify as a common carrier under Texas law. TransCanada does not get to write their own rules. I look forward to the Supreme Court hearing our case and our plea to protect the fundamental rights of property owners.”
The ruling on Wednesday from the Texas Supreme Court means that Crawford will be able to take the next step in the appeals process against TransCanada. The southern segment, also known as Gulf Coast Segment, stretches from Cushing, Oklahoma to Beaumont, Texas and carries tar sands or dilbit which is a combination of tar sands and chemicals that react very differently when spills occur than traditional Texas oil.
“We’re thrilled, because the Supreme Court has finally ruled in favor of us – the little guys – and against a foreign oil giant,” Julia Trigg Crawford continued. “Basically, TransCanada said that it wanted a waiver from responding to our petition, and the Supreme Court said, ‘No, you must respond’.”
Crawford said her case has broad implications because if she wins, TransCanada and other foreign oil companies will no longer be able to use eminent domain to seize land for their private profit without direct proof their pipeline is carrying Texan oil.
Reporting more thoroughly on Julia's story and her Stand Tall campaign, Anna Simonton of Yes! Magazine writes:
While the State Department mulls whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada is already gearing up to start pumping bitumen extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the gulf coast of Texas in January of next year.
The Canadian fossil fuels giant recently announced that it will inject an initial 3 million barrels of oil into the newly completed southern leg of the pipeline over the coming weeks. Activists are calling on regulators to halt the process, citing inspections that revealed numerous flaws in the infrastructure. While that could stall the project, a few pending court battles with Texas landowners are presenting a broader challenge to TransCanada's plans.
One of those landowners is East Texas farmer Julia Trigg Crawford, who in November petitioned to appeal a ruling in TransCanada's favor. If her appeal is accepted, her case will be the first on this issue to be heard by the Texas Supreme Court.
The trouble for Crawford started in 2008, when TransCanada offered her $7,000 for a lifetime easement across her pasture. This would give the company complete control over the land without owning it outright. She consulted with her father and siblings, all of whom have a stake in the farm. They decided to refuse.
Crawford says no amount of money would have changed her mind. Her family's decision was based on a strong connection to the land her grandfather purchased in 1948, she says, and concern for the indigenous artifacts that can be found all over the property.
Then Crawford began learning more about the diluted bitumen that would flow through the pipe and her concerns increased. "This is not your mother's everyday crude," she explained by phone in her matter-of-fact Texas drawl. "What's coming out of Alberta is corrosive, it's the consistency of peanut butter, and it's pumped at much higher pressures. When it spills in a waterway it does not float. It sinks to the bottom."
The details of how bitumen behaves in water are important because TransCanada's plan was to lay the pipe under the Boise d'Arc Creek, which Crawford uses to irrigate her corn and soybean fields.
"If that water is contaminated, it's going to flow straight down to my pumps," Crawford says. "There's been drought for the past two years in Texas. I can't do without water." Focusing on eminent domain reform
Crawford says her family has refused offers from pipeline companies before. All responded by changing their route to cross the properties of willing neighbors. Not so with TransCanada. When she refused their offer, the company turned around and filed for eminent domain rights with the Texas Railroad Commission.
"Eminent domain" refers to situations in which the government or a corporation can seize a person's land even if they are not willing to sell it because the planned project is deemed a public good. If a company plans to build infrastructure that will be used by the public or made available to other businesses for a fee, that company is considered a "common carrier" and, under Texas law, can be given the authority to take land through eminent domain.
That might sound reasonable enough in theory. But in practice the Texas Railroad Commission has no process for determining whether a company actually meets these standards. According to Crawford, TransCanada simply filled out a form, checked the box marked "common carrier," and was approved to condemn her pasture. (In the legal terminology of eminent domain, a company's move to take land is referred to as "condemnation." A PDF of TransCanada's letter of condemnation in reference to Crawford's farm can be viewed here.)
Since then, Crawford has made her way through the lower courts, arguing that TransCanada is not a common carrier. In August, an appeals court sided with the corporation, prompting Crawford to file an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
Wendi Hammond, an environmental lawyer representing Crawford, says a big part of what they are seeking is legislative interpretation.
She says eminent domain has made it "extremely easy for private corporations to take Texans' land without really having to prove anything." She wants the court to consider whether that's what Texas legislators intended when they wrote the laws defining eminent domain in 1917.
Although the case is still pending, TransCanada began construction on Crawford's pasture in May. The company's security guards "popped up like whackamoles" from behind vehicles, Crawford says, videotaping and photographing her as she went about her daily routine.
Now that portion of the pipeline is in the ground and the workers have disappeared, leaving behind porta potties and construction materials without any promise of cleaning up. A pipeline in pieces
"A lot of people don't know that this Texas leg is already being built," Crawford says, referring to the common misperception that the entire Keystone project depends on TransCanada receiving a presidential permit from Barack Obama.
In actuality, the 3,812 miles of pipeline that will carry 830,000 barrels per day of bitumen from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast consists of multiple segments in various stages of development.
The existing Keystone pipeline runs from Alberta to Cushing, Okla. (with a fork along the way that goes east to Illinois). The recently completed southern extension connects to the Keystone in Cushing and tunnels through East Texas on its way to refineries along the coast. The proposed northern extension—the only part of the project that requires a presidential permit—would create a shortcut to Alberta across Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana.
TransCanada has distinguished the two extensions to the Keystone as two separate projects, calling the northern extension "Keystone XL," and the southern extension the Gulf Coast Project. This decoupling of the project is what has allowed TransCanada to make headway, according to Susan Casey-Lefkowitz at the National Resources Defense Council.
The Keystone XL requires State Department approval because it crosses a national border, while the Gulf Coast Project does not because it's entirely within the United States. Last year, President Obama asked TransCanada to expedite construction of the southern extension. The company simultaneously laid pipeline across East Texas and pumped diluted bitumen to storage tanks in Cushing, so that the extension could become active immediately upon completion.
In building the southern leg, TransCanada has used eminent domain to take property from at least 89 Texas landowners. That's according to Debra Medina, founder of the nonpartisan, Tea-Party-leaning organization We Texans. Medina searched court records from every Texas county that the pipeline will traverse, counting the petitions of condemnation TransCanada filed.
Medina doesn't know how many landowners tried to challenge the corporation—only four cases have moved beyond the county courts and received wider attention. Before Crawford's case, only one had gone as far as an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. It was denied in April.
Crawford acknowledges that she doesn't expect to win her lawsuit, despite a promising precedent set last year. In a case brought by a Texas rice farmer against the pipeline company Denbury Green, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the company was not a common carrier and did not have the right to use eminent domain.
But the case differs from Crawford's in that Denbury Green was building a pipeline to transport natural gas, which is subject to different rules.
Hammond shares her client's assessment. Yet they aren't discouraged. For Crawford, keeping up the fight is a matter of principle. She says her family agreed from the outset that as long as they had enough money in their legal coffer, they would continue to seek justice.
For her part, Hammond says it's best to understand the role of the case in the larger context of environmental law.
"You may not necessarily win your particular battle in court but overall you might win the whole war," she says. "You increase the dialogue so other people understand what is going on." Staying energized
The dialogue around eminent domain In Texas is certainly picking up speed. The last legislative session saw three bills that would have changed the application process for companies seeking common carrier status. None passed.
Crawford, Hammond, and other advocates are confident that the necessary reforms will eventually be enacted if they keep up the pressure. While it's likely too late to stop the southern extension of the Keystone, such reforms would at least ensure that companies in the future are regulated more strictly than TransCanada has been.
Meanwhile, Crawford has aligned herself with activists in Nebraska, traveling there to speak at the groundbreaking for a wind and solar powered barn, which activists and landowners built directly in the proposed path of Keystone XL. The barn will serve as a meeting space for farmers to learn about using renewable energy in their agricultural practices. Crawford hopes that sharing her story with other landowners empowers them to challenge TransCanada's use of eminent domain and to stop the pipeline altogether.
By standing her ground, Crawford has inadvertently become a leading voice for pipeline resistance. She has spoken at conventions, press conferences, protests, and even on Capitol Hill, where she testified before a House committee that is considering a bill to reform federal eminent domain laws. Crawford opposes the bill because it makes an exception for companies that are building pipelines.
Though her reserves of energy and passion run deep as a Texas oil well, managing a farm while fighting a major lawsuit and building a grassroots network adds up to an exhausting workload. On days when she feels like quitting, she says she pulls a thick binder down from a shelf in her office.
She pages through the binder, where she has kept every email, letter, and post-it-note she's received since beginning her campaign, along with photocopies of checks signed with imperatives like, "Kick ass and take names!"
Over the past few years, she says, she has raised more than $100,000 to cover her legal fees, mostly from individuals in amounts of $5, $10, or $20.
She remembers when a heavily creased letter, written in pencil in a scrawling cursive hand, arrived along with eight dollars and some nickels and dimes.
"I am sure you are familiar with Dr. James Hansen's dire predictions for the future should this pipeline go into operation," wrote the letter's author. "As a person hoping to live in said future, I am indebted to you."
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Monday, January 13, 2014

Can your doctor tell you what is in the Frackin' water?

For Pennsylvania's Doctors, a Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals

A new provision could forbid the state's doctors from sharing information with patients exposed to toxic—and proprietary—fracking solutions.
A fracking rig. arimoore/Flickr
Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction -- but they won't be able to share it with their patients. A provision buried in a law passed last month is drawing scrutiny from the public health and environmental community, who argue that it will "gag" doctors who want to raise concerns related to oil and gas extraction with the people they treat and the general public.
Pennsylvania is at the forefront in the debate over "fracking," the process by which a high-pressure mixture of chemicals, sand, and water are blasted into rock to tap into the gas. Recent discoveries of great reserves in the Marcellus Shale region of the state prompted a rush to development, as have advancements in fracking technologies. But with those changes have come a number of concerns from citizens about potential environmental and health impacts from natural gas drilling.
"People are claiming that animals are dying and people are getting sick in clusters around [drilling wells], but we can't really study it because we can't see what's actually in the product."
There is good reason to be curious about exactly what's in those fluids. A 2010 congressional investigation revealed that Halliburton and other fracking companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel products, which include toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, in the fluids they inject into the ground. Low levels of exposure to those chemicals can trigger acute effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while higher levels of exposure can cause cancer.
Pennsylvania law states that companies must disclose the identity and amount of any chemicals used in fracking fluids to any health professional that requests that information in order to diagnosis or treat a patient that may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical. But the provision in the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else -- not even the person they're trying to treat.
"The whole goal of medical community is to protect public health," said David Masur, director of PennEnvironment. He worries that the threat of a lawsuit from a big industry player like Halliburton or ExxonMobil for violating a confidentiality agreement could scare doctors away from research on potential impacts in the state. "If anything, we need more concrete information. This just stifles another way the public could have access to information from experts."
The provision was not in the initial versions of the law debated in the state Senate or House in February; it was added in during conference between the two chambers, said State Senator Daylin Leach (D), which meant that many lawmakers did not even notice that this "broad, very troubling provision" had been added. "The importance of keeping it as a proprietary secret seems minimal when compared to letting the public know what chemicals they and their children are being exposed to," Leach told Mother Jones.
The limits on what doctors can say about those chemicals makes it impossible to either assuage or affirm the public's concerns about health impacts. "People are claiming that animals are dying and people are getting sick in clusters around [drilling wells], but we can't really study it because we can't see what's actually in the product," said Leach.
At the federal level, natural gas developers have long been allowed to keep the mixture of chemicals they use in fracking fluid a secret from the general public, protecting it as "proprietary information." The industry is exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory -- the program that ensures that communities are given information about what companies are releasing. In 2005 the industry successfully lobbied for an exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act as well, in what is often referred to as the "Halliburton Loophole." The Obama EPA has pressed drillers to voluntarily provide more information about fracking fluids, but the industry has largely rebuffed those appeals.
The latest move in Pennsylvania has raised suspicions among the industry's critics once again. As Walter Tsou, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, put it, "What is the big secret here that they're unwilling to tell people, unless they know that if people found out what's really in these chemicals, they would be outraged?"

This story was produced by Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones as part of theClimate Desk collaboration.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fracking report from Kentucky written by Madeline Ostrander for The Nation

Toward the end of this article may be the funniest thing I've ever read about gas exploration and citizen protest.  The article is serious, long, and  good  so is worth reading in whole.  If you don't, at least try to reach the Kentucky Holy Land.

Bluegrass Uprising
Thursday, 02 January 2014 09:29

(Image: Pipelines via Shutterstock)
As American energy production booms, thousands face pipelines in their backyards.
Lorrie Reed lives alone in a trailer on a rural road outside Frankfort, Kentucky, on two acres of land that her late husband bought more than twenty years ago. He left the property to her and their daughters when he died in a motorcycle accident. “He told me before he passed that the place was going to be mine, and the only way I’d lose it was if I let somebody mess me out of it,” Reed says.
Ever since this past summer, when land agents approached her—twice—to ask permission to survey a proposed pipeline route across her property, Reed repeats these words to herself. She walks with a limp, an injury from a collision with a dump truck during the years that she worked on road maintenance crews. She owns a pistol because she is afraid of the feral dogs that she says are common in the area. She held the gun in her palm when the pipeline consultants pulled into her gravel driveway. “You’re trespassing,” she told them.
Still, she decided to sign the paperwork allowing them to survey. A day later, a letter arrived at her house from the Bluegrass Pipeline Blockade, a loose-knit network of Kentuckians organized mainly through Facebook. Reed learned that the pink survey ribbons in the field across the street from her land marked the potential route of a two-foot-diameter transcontinental pipe. It would haul a mix of butane, propane, pentane and other chemicals—called “natural gas liquids,” or NGLs—from fracking wells in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Nine years ago, a four-inch NGL pipeline about a tenth as big destroyed five homes in eastern Kentucky and left a state trooper with severe burns after he rescued a 3-year-old child. In August of this year, a ten-inch NGL pipeline ruptured in western Illinois, shooting flames 300 feet into the air.
The information frightened Reed, and she wrote to the Williams Companies, one of the two corporations leading the pipeline project, to say that she had changed her mind: no one from the Bluegrass Pipeline project should set foot on her land.
By the end of the summer, distressed property owners and other Kentucky residents had united in an uprising against the pipeline. The project hasn’t aroused much public outcry in the other seven states it would cross. But in Kentucky, the proposed route traverses hallowed terrain: the eponymous Bluegrass Region, where the Kentucky Derby’s prizewinning horses graze; rolling hills pocked by springs, rivers, and aquifers that flow through the limestone soils and give Kentucky bourbon its characteristic taste. Opponents say a pipeline spill could destroy Kentucky’s traditional economies. Signs saying No Proposed Bluegrass Pipeline now line many of the rural roads; one sits at the edge of Reed’s yard. Officials in several counties and one city have passed resolutions protesting the pipeline or pleading with the state or federal government to consider the potential impact on property rights and the environment. Since at least October, land agents hired by the pipeline developers have been privately making deals with property owners—but some, like Reed, say they won’t budge.
* * *
It’s becoming a familiar battle for the fossil-fuel industry, as it scrambles to build new infrastructure to move the massive quantities of oil and gas that it’s producing in the Northeast, Southwest, Rockies and Great Plains. As technology has made it easier and more cost-effective to extract natural gas and oil trapped in rock formations, fossil-fuel production has boomed in the United States, reversing a decades-long decline in domestic fuel production. (The International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will be the world’s number-one producer of oil and gas by the end of 2015.) But despite President Obama’s brag in 2012 that he’s overseen enough new pipelines to “encircle the Earth and then some,” the United States is fracking and drilling so enthusiastically that the builders of pipelines can barely keep up. “Developing new pipeline capacity…will not be without difficulties,” the Brookings Institution wrote in a 2013 report. “Landowner rights…pose potential obstacles that can slow down the construction process.”
There are dozens of new oil and gas infrastructure projects—and thousands of miles of new pipelines—planned for the next few years. But pipelines carry flammable, toxic materials next to homes, and many experts say they’re poorly monitored by the government. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves any proposed new gas pipelines that cross state lines, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) oversees their safety standards. But PHMSA is notoriously understaffed: just 110 federal inspectors supervise the nation’s 2.5 million miles of existing pipelines. (PHMSA says it has help from about 300 state inspectors, but they don’t cover every state.)
Oversight for new pipelines carrying oil and NGL—both classed as “hazardous liquids”—is even laxer, say critics. Although agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service issue permits related to specific environmental concerns, no federal regulator scopes the whole project or checks whether the pipeline could follow a different route—one, say, with a narrower environmental impact. With the exception of densely populated zones, places with drinking-water sources and any land deemed “unusually sensitive,” if a pipeline operator notices a safety problem, it is, according to the watchdog group Pipeline Safety Trust, “left pretty much up to [their] good judgment” to decide when to fix it.
In the absence of help from federal agencies, thousands of people and hundreds of communities negotiate with oil and gas companies on their own. A handful of local governments in various parts of the country—including Missouri and Washington State—have passed ordinances that grant stricter oversight for new housing, schools or hospitals near existing pipelines, and a few states have standards for restoring soils around new projects that cross farmland. Still, when a new pipeline is proposed, property owners have to nail down the details in their contract—often with the help of a lawyer, almost always at their own expense. Without much guidance from regulators, they negotiate the money, as well as how much distance to leave between a pipeline easement and a house, and whether the company will replant the trees it has bulldozed or rebuild fences.
The stakes are high, and the situation can leave people vulnerable—especially if a company claims it can use eminent domain, the power to seize private land for a project deemed to serve the public good. In Kentucky, for several months, both of the companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline project insisted they could, although the Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary refuted this in a public meeting in September. Still, the threat has frightened some property owners.
When I visited Reed in October, I could imagine the pipeline agents sizing her up—a motorcyclist in her 50s, disabled and hard-pressed for income. She sat on a cooler in her front yard in a rainbow tie-dyed shirt, squinting into the sun through thick glasses. She’s going blind from a disease called macular degeneration, she says. She’s gone without health insurance for years, and friends give her their extra prescription inhalers for her asthma and Epi-Pens to ward off bee-sting allergies. Even a few thousand dollars from the Williams Companies would have covered some of her healthcare. In the summer, Reed says, pipeline consultants trailed her to a nearby store. “They were all like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to make good money,’” she recalls. But Reed was unmoved. “I’m a fighter. I always have been.”
Ever since Bill McKibben and farmers and ranchers in the Plains and Southwest turned the Keystone XL pipeline into a litmus test for Obama’s position on climate change, pipelines have been a charged subject. New pipeline projects have provoked public ire: in Manhattan, rallies broke out against the Spectra natural gas line; in the Midwest, Native American horse riders led a protest against the Sandpiper crude oil line. The United States has launched itself headlong into an oil and gas renaissance, and the fossil-fuel industry is asking millions of people to accept new risks from fracking, drilling, refining, and hauling oil and gas on an ever-grander scale. But aside from rock-bottom natural gas prices, it’s not clear whether the risks come with many rewards. Consider the implications for climate change: US carbon emissions have dropped in recent years partly because we are burning more gas (from fracking) and less coal. But new research says the EPA may be grossly underestimating how much methane—itself a powerful greenhouse gas—is leaking from fracked wells into the atmosphere. And while some economists argue that fracking is revving up the manufacturing sector and other new investments, skeptics contend that the entire industry could be heading for a crash as overexploited shale reserves decline.
As the market for methane has become overloaded, producers have relied on selling natural gas liquids, which would pump through the Bluegrass Pipeline, to stay profitable. NGLs are used in plastics manufacturing, petroleum refining and in various other petrochemical processes. Propane can also heat homes and cook hamburgers on backyard grills, and pentanes are a gasoline ingredient. According to Forbes columnist Tom Konrad, “relatively high prices for NGLs have kept many…gas wells profitable despite low gas prices.” But the NGL market is oversaturated too, and the Brookings Institution predicts that it will also hit a glut in a few years.
To ease the glut, the industry will have to move the fuel to new markets in the United States or to export terminals so that it can be sold overseas; and companies say pipelines are safer than other methods for transporting oil and gas. In general, the data on pipeline accidents back them up: from 2005 to 2009, trucks carrying oil and gas had twenty-two times as many spills and accidents as did natural gas pipelines (after factoring for distance and the amount of fuel carried by each). Hazardous liquids pipelines had thirty-four times fewer accidents than trucks and three and a half times fewer accidents than railcars carrying fossil fuels.
But there are a lot of unanswered questions about the environmental hazards of pipelines. “There have been no definitive studies showing that pipelines are the most environmentally safe means of transport for oil and natural gas liquids,” says Lois Epstein, an engineer with The Wilderness Society. When a pipeline ruptures, it spills an order of magnitude more fuel than a train, sending toxics into soil and water. When an NGL pipeline breaks, it can be especially hazardous. The contents are heavier than air and compressed under high pressure to keep them in liquid form. They can explode or spill, tainting soil and water with toxins. A year ago, a leak in a Williams Companies NGL pipeline in Parachute, Colorado, went undetected for two weeks. It dumped 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene, and left a ten-acre plume of contamination in the groundwater. 
* * *
“What is a fair offer?” James Smith asked.
“I’m not going to say. I’ll tell you what—it’s more than fair,” the agent replied.
James, his wife Rita and I had left their farm in Nelson County, Kentucky, a few minutes before and come across the agent’s blue pickup truck, labeled “Bluegrass Pipeline,” as the narrow road rounded a corner. The agent (who asked not to be named) had been napping in the front seat when the Smiths pulled up. He worked for a survey company that was contracted to negotiate with property owners along the Bluegrass route. Now he stood beside his truck as the Smiths peppered him with questions, but he wouldn’t give any details about the deals being made with local property owners.
“If it’s $24 a linear foot, I wouldn’t smell a person’s breath for that,” James told him. 
It was early October. By then, locals had heard that the Williams Companies were offering landowners a one-time payment: a few tens of thousands of dollars, depending on local property values and the length of the easement. (When I asked, the Williams Companies wouldn’t confirm any specifics, but other reports of easement sales have named similar amounts.)
The Smiths live in Indiana, just across the border from Louisville, and rent part of their property to a local farmer. The land has been in James’s family for more than 200 years. “I was intending to leave it to my sons,” he said. James worries most about a pipeline leak or explosion, which could make local property values sink. A few small-scale studies on pipelines say the easements themselves don’t have a detectable impact on real estate prices—although there are anecdotes, in Kentucky and elsewhere, of property owners who couldn’t sell their land once a pipeline was present. 
The Bluegrass agent tried to assure the Smiths that pipeline companies are “building stuff a lot better than they ever have.” They didn’t seem convinced. “You have your interest to protect; I have mine,” James said with a parting handshake.
It’s hard to know how well the agent’s safety claims will hold up. The section of the Bluegrass Pipeline that will run through this area will be new construction. (As the route heads west, the companies plan to convert an older natural gas pipeline.) Newer pipelines use improved construction materials and updated technology. But there’s no guarantee that they will be safer: a lot depends on how well a pipeline is constructed and maintained. “We see pipelines under certain conditions that can fail from corrosion within five years, and others that have been in the ground for eighty years that look brand-new,” says Carl Weimer, the Pipeline Safety Trust’s executive director.
In November, James Smith told me he’d received an easement offer for $40,000 plus a signing bonus for a quick response. He asked his lawyer to reject it.
* * *
The Smiths’ farm lies in an area southeast of Louisville called the Kentucky “Holy Land,” counties marked by monasteries, churches, convents and colleges founded by Catholics more than two centuries ago. Here, poet and scholar Thomas Merton wrote about the “sublime fire of infused love” and renouncing material success in the secluded Abbey of Gethsemani. This past summer, Bluegrass Pipeline agents asked permission to scope a possible route through Gethsemani, where a community of monks sustains itself from donations and the sale of homemade cheese and fudge. The monks said no. In July, an agent approached the Loretto Motherhouse, where about 100 mostly elderly nuns and other women live and pray on a campus covered with statues of saints and angels. The sisters—who are known to turn up at protests against coal-mining—were incensed. In August, they interrupted a community meeting held by the Williams Companies by belting out verses of “Amazing Grace.”
The monks and nuns use their modest resources to help people in the community who have financial troubles, and though they are more left-leaning than many of their neighbors, people trust them. In the summer and fall, locals who opposed the pipeline began asking the nuns to appear at community meetings. 
Mike McCain, a farmer in Washington County, read an op-ed in a regional newspaper by a nun named Sister Claire McGowan about three weeks after a land agent walked onto his land and asked permission to survey for a “gas line.” In it, McGowan wrote: “NGLs are…highly flammable and extremely explosive. They are also extremely toxic to living beings in case of contact.”
McCain has limestone sinkholes on his farm, and a river circles his fields. The information in the op-ed angered him: “[The agent] deceived me. It was not a gas line.” McCain began attending meetings and talking with neighbors and his five adult children—all of whom are farmers—about pipeline safety. The more he learned, the more outspoken he became, until he began getting invitations to give public speeches at community meetings alongside state lawmakers. “There’s just no money for me that’s worth it,” McCain told me.
The support from the Kentucky religious community may be one of the reasons the opposition has grown so defiant here. The Bluegrass Pipeline Blockade has also received help from two statewide organizations, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a progressive advocacy group, and the Kentucky Resources Council, a legal aid group. KRC has helped two lawmakers draft bills that would prevent the Bluegrass Pipeline from seizing private land via eminent domain; the Kentucky Legislature will take these up in January. In December, the organization also filed a lawsuit against the Bluegrass Pipeline over this issue.
Groups like these have made some locals feel empowered to refuse offers. But many people have been private about their dealings with the pipeline land agents. “I’ve got some that have sworn me to secrecy,” said Keith Metcalfe, a government official from Nelson County. 
Charles Howard, who runs a hardware store in Nelson County, is one of the few who have been willing to speak openly in provisional support of the project. Howard envisioned a unified effort among property owners around the region to broker a better deal with the company, such as getting annual payments instead of a single fee. Such arrangements are rare or nonexistent in pipeline easement contracts.
A few weeks ago, he received an offer for an easement on his property. He sent the agent a counter-offer. “If we had sat down and bargained with them as a whole county and worked together, we could have got things that both sides liked”—the pipeline opponents and those who wanted to sell easements] liked,” he said. “But as it was…everybody was set to bargain on their own.”
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Madeline Ostrander is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine and a freelance writer based in Seattle.