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Kentucky's Anti-Fracking Movement, With Help of Courts, Deals Setback to Pipelines

Kentucky's Anti-Fracking Movement, With Help of Courts, Deals Setback to Pipelines
Tue, 7/7/2015 - by Kelley Davidson

Some recent victories against powerful energy companies have given environmental activists in Kentucky a reason to celebrate. In late May, Bluegrass Pipeline LLC was denied eminent domain by the Kentucky Court of Appeals following a legal battle against environmental lawyer and renowned activist Tom FitzGerald, whose efforts succeeded in blocking a natural gas transport line across 13 Kentucky counties.

FitzGerald, representing a group of concerned citizens called Kentuckians United to Restrict Eminent Domain, or KURED, managed to stave off a deal that would have transported gas fracked from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virgina through hundreds of miles of state farmland, and heading all the way down to the Gulf Coast.

Because the Bluegrass Pipeline would be of no use to Kentucky consumers themselves, the court emphatically stated that “the pipeline cannot be said to be in the public service of Kentucky,” and therefore the company could not declare eminent domain over the private property of Kentucky landowners.

The victory was only the latest for FitzGerald, who is the founder and director of the Kentucky Resources Council and has been hailed the “watchdog of the environment” in Kentucky for over 30 years. While offering free legal assistance on all kinds of resource and environmental matters, FitzGerald is now in the process of developing a leadership training program for the next generation of state watchdogs.

Beyond Bluegrass

The concerns shared by KURED and Fitzgerald about the feasibility of the Bluegrass Pipeline weren’t unfounded, and weren’t only concentrated around the legalities of private property.

Kentucky is home to great biological diversity, geological anomalies included. Beneath Kentucky’s rare mixed mesophitic forests lie vast Karst geography – a system of caves, sinkholes and drainage systems formed over time by the dissolution of sedimentary rock. In layman’s terms, most of Kentucky’s underground landscape resembles swiss cheese.

This fragile geological foundation is easy to destroy, and the drilling and pressurization involved in the creation of the pipeline could be disastrous for such a fragile geological environment. If enough damage was done, massive cave-ins could be possible all over the Western half of the Bluegrass.

Although the pipeline company may attempt a rehearing at the Court of Appeals, the decision has bought activists in Kentucky valuable time to educate fellow citizens about resource extraction practices in the state – and to continue organizing and gathering opposition to companies like Bluegrass and others.

The court’s ruling also quashed another energy company’s attempt to unlawfully declare eminent domain against land-owning Kentuckians. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners began sending letters to citizens in Central Kentucky late last year, warning them that the company would be taking steps to enact eminent domain on private properties in order to “repurpose” a 72-year-old natural gas pipeline into a vessel for transporting hydraulic fracking waste.

The pipeline, which experts say isn't built to withstand the massive pressure needed to transport the waste from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, could cause immense damage to the surrounding counties were a leak to occur. Natural liquid gas and fracking waste are highly flammable – meaning even a small leak would pose a serious threat to people and the environment.

According to Madison County Magistrate John Tudor, “liquid gas is so volatile that transmissions from emergency radios or cell phones can trigger an explosion.” And thanks to the May ruling by the Court of Appeals, Kinder Morgan won't be allowed to follow through with its plans.

Kentucky Resists Fracking

Since early January, Central Kentucky citizens have been organizing, whistleblowing, and loudly stating their opinions about the dangers of fracking. Frack-Free Foothills, an organization founded in Berea, Kentucky, is coordinating workshops to teach people how to sample their water supplies for fracking-related pollutants, then send the samples to independent labs. These “watershed watches” are effective against the kind of data manipulation that coal companies have been guilty of in the past – and are now seen as vital to prevent natural gas companies from doing the same.

The push-back against gas company interests in Kentucky over the past six months has been the direct result of more community involvement. Many Central Kentucky counties have adopted anti-fracking resolutions since the EPA released a study correlating fracking with groundwater contamination.

Tom FitzGerald said the uprising of Kentucky citizens against natural gas companies’ maneuvers made him “very proud…that they were willing to stand up for their brothers and sisters, to vindicate the right of private landowners.”

In this red state, the battle against fracking – and the public's demand for clean water and a safe environment – is only heating up.

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