Plans for a 500-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas liquids through 13 Kentucky counties have been tabled indefinitely, an update that has thrilled the project’s opponents who have been outspoken in their opposition to the pipeline over the last year.
Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the companies in charge or the Bluegrass Pipeline, announced online Monday that they had halted all investments in the pipeline “primarily in response to an insufficient level of firm customer commitments,” meaning the companies felt they hadn’t won enough buyers for the natural gas liquids that would be transported through the pipeline. Their decision to back off from pursuing the project for now doesn’t mean the pipeline is dead completely– it could one day be started back up, but for now, the companies are no longer trying to acquire land for the pipeline and are closing its offices along the pipeline’s route.
“While data show there will soon be a need for a large-scale solution like Bluegrass Pipeline to meet market needs, potential customers to-date have so far chosen to focus on local solutions,” Williams Co. and Boardwalk said in a release. “As a result, we continue to pursue support for the project, but we are exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time. In short, Bluegrass Pipeline appears to be a project that’s ahead of its time.”
Tim Joice, water policy director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, told WDRB that though his group was optimistic about the announcement, he’s wary that it only means the company will restart plans for the pipeline in the future.
“Sometimes industry will ‘suspend’ operations or ‘suspend’ the future of a project, but in reality, behind the scenes they’ll still be working on it,” he said. “This is a billion-dollar project for them and if they can get it moving again, they will.”
The project’s halt is a win for Kentucky’s anti-pipeline activists, including a group of nuns who have been stalwart in their refusal to allow the pipeline on their land. In September, the Sisters of Loretto successfully persuaded Williams Co. to route the pipeline so that it would avoid the nuns’ 780-acre property in Marion County. The nuns, joined by the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani, had refused to allow Bluegrass pipeline workers to survey their property, which between the two communities amounts to more than 3,000 acres that they’ve owned since the 1800s. But the nuns’ battle against the pipeline didn’t stop when Williams Co. promised it would avoid their land — they have remained outspoken against the pipeline, saying in a protest in November that “it matters how we treat the Earth, the land, the water and all inhabitants of the Earth.” The pipeline would cross the Ohio River and, as the route stands currently, as many as 700 streams.
The nuns weren’t the only Kentucky residents concerned about the pipeline. Eleven counties in the state passed resolutions against the pipeline, and multiple Kentucky landowners have refused to take the easements Williams Co. and Boardwalk offered. One landowner, Penny Greathouse, told the Herald-Standard that she turned down an easement of $350,000 and a later one of $658,000 offer, saying her “life and livelihood and health mean a lot more to me than money.”
Students also got involved in the fight against the pipeline. Kara Carmichael, a student at the University of Louisville, said in an email to ThinkProgress that while she and the rest of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition are excited about the tabling of the Bluegrass Pipeline, students aren’t letting their guard down on this and other projects.
“This is not the last pipeline company that will try and take advantage of Kentucky’s position between the shale fields and the refineries of the Gulf Coast,” she said. “We will continue to push for regulations from Frankfort to protect us from future NGL projects.”
Kentucky residents’ concerns about the pipeline ranged from the companies’ possible use of eminent domain (which a judge ruled in March was not within their rights) to the dangers the pipeline posed to the environment and public safety. They have reason to be concerned about a natural gas liquids pipeline — in February, Kentucky homes were leveled and more homes evacuated when a natural gas pipeline exploded in the rural town of Knifely. And in January, a natural gas pipeline in Manitoba, Canada exploded and caught fire, shutting off gas supplies for as many as 4,000 residents in freezing temperatures.