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Appeals Court Will Decide Scope of Eminent Domain in Kentucky

eminent domain

Kentucky’s Court of Appeals is considering whether to overturn a lower court’s decision that a company can’t use the power of eminent domain for a natural gas liquids pipeline in the commonwealth.

Last week, the appeals court heard arguments in the case, which pits pipeline company Williams against Kentuckians United to Restrain Eminent Domain, or KURED, a citizen group. In 2013, Williams began planning the Bluegrass Pipeline, a multi-state project to transport natural gas liquids from drilling operations in the northeast to processing plants in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas liquids are byproducts of gas drilling: hydrocarbons such as ethane and propane.

But as Williams representatives began planning the pipeline’s route, the question came up as to whether the company could use eminent domain for the project. Kentucky law is vague on the subject; it doesn’t restrict eminent domain to public utilities, and states the law can only be invoked for a “public use.” Williams representatives said they did have the power of eminent domain, but other experts were skeptical.

A year ago, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the Bluegrass Pipeline couldn’t use eminent domain in Kentucky. In his opinion, Shepherd wrote that the Bluegrass Pipeline doesn’t fall under the definition of “public service” stated in the law, and also doesn’t count as a common carrier.

The Bluegrass Pipeline has since been put on hold, but Williams isstill pursuing an appeal of Shepherd’s ruling. The final decision in the case will set a precedent for any other NGL pipelines that cross Kentucky; another project, involving the conversion of the existing Tennessee Gas Pipeline, is also in the works.

The case was heard last week in front of Judges Janet Stumbo, James Lambert and Jeff Taylor. There’s no set deadline for the judges to issue their ruling on the matter.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.