Kentucky Energy Secretary Len Peters told a legislative committee that his legal staff, after careful analysis, reached that conclusion regarding the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline project, which he described as "one of the most difficult and controversial issues that we have faced in the commonwealth in quite some time."
"Based on this research, relative to federal law and statutes and how natural gas liquid pipelines are regulated, they do not see how eminent domain can be invoked," Peters said.
The position differs from that of company executives who insisted Thursday that the companies do have authority to use eminent domain to obtain right of way if landowners are unwilling to cooperate.
The Bluegrass Pipeline, being built by Williams Co. of Oklahoma and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners of Texas, would cross northern and central Kentucky, carrying a liquid byproduct of the natural gas refining process that's used to make plastics, medical supplies and carpet, among other products. It would also cross Ohio.
Land owners and environmental activists have fought furiously against the pipeline, citing concerns about potential leaks.
The Bluegrass Pipeline controversy is an extension of an environmental debate raging in several states over fracking, a process in which water and sand are injected into underground shale to push out oil and gas. The flammable liquids that would travel through the Kentucky pipeline would come from fracking sites in the Marcellus and Utica shale gas areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Boardwalk general counsel Mike McMahon said the companies "have not landed on a precise route" for the pipeline in Kentucky, though he said work is under way to do that.