FRANKFORT, Ky. — A group of Catholic nuns who successfully redirected the route of a proposed pipeline off their land are joining other religious leaders who say their faith has prompted them to oppose the ongoing project.
The Sisters of Loretto and members from Baptist, Presbyterian and Unitarian churches delivered a 36,000-signature petition to Gov. Steve Beshear's office at the Kentucky Capitol Tuesday. The group of about 50 demonstrators called on the governor to oppose the Bluegrass Pipeline project, saying the natural gas liquids transmission line is a danger to leak hazardous materials.
"For too long too many of us have stepped aside, looked the other way and allowed powerful and profit-motivated corporatons to dictate to us how our environment is going to be treated, and it's not a pretty picture," David Whitlock, pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church, said on the steps of the capitol.
Whitlock said the pipeline would desecrate "God's land" and protesting the project is "the responsibility God has given us."
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method used to extract natural gas, have also taken aim at the pipeline, which would carry material from fracking sites in the Northeast through Kentucky and on to the Gulf of Mexico. The online petition included signatures from people around the country, organizers said.
Fracking involves extracting oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. Opponents say it causes groundwater contamination and other environmental problems.
The companies building the pipeline began about a month ago securing easements along the project's proposed path through 14 counties in northern and central Kentucky.
About 50 miles of the projected 180-mile path in Kentucky have been secured through deals with private landowners, said Tom Droege, a spokesman with Tulsa-based Williams Co., one of the companies building the pipeline. The company is expecting to spend $30 million to $50 million on the 50-foot wide easement purchases in Kentucky.
The sisters, who live on a 780-acre tract in Marion County, refused to speak with project surveyors in July when they visited the Loretto Motherhouse. Pipeline officials later said they would seek a route north of the sisters' land, and would also steer clear of land owned by the Abbey of Gethsemani, the home of a group of Catholic monks in Nelson County.
Susan Classen, a co-member of the Loretto community, said the sisters would continue to fight the project even though it won't affect their land.
"This is not just about us, it's about everyone and the land all over Kentucky," Classen said.
After a round of brief speeches on the capitol steps, the demonstrators went inside to deliver the petition to a staffer in the governor's office. The petition was organized by a group called Faithful America, and its website references the Sisters of Loretto, saying "the fracking industry messed with the wrong nuns."
Beshear did not appear during the protest, but said in a statement that his office is "monitoring this issue very closely."
"If we find that there is a need for state government to take action to increase protections for our landowners and for the protection of our environment, we will have adequate time to do so in the regular (General Assembly) session that begins in January," Beshear said.
The pipeline company is also currently securing easements for a route through Ohio.
The material carried by the pipeline would be a liquid byproduct of the natural gas refining process that is used to make plastics, medical supplies and carpet, among other products. The liquids contain flammable substances including propane, butane and ethane.
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