Push for Pipelines – Part 2

Below is Push for Pipelines – Part 2. Read Part 1 here.

You be the dog in this shot. Tell the snake-oil salesman what for.

Communicating with the snake-oil salesman. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

How did we get to this point? Let’s review our first contact with the land agent representing EQT.

In February of 2014, the EQT land agent asked my wife and I for permission to walk our property for a preliminary evaluation of a possible route for their 30” high pressure pipe which would slice our land south to north, resulting in habitat fragmentation.

When opponents  of piplines list their concerns, among them is habitat fragmentation. They usually mean splitting up the forest where the deer and squirrel and birds and other critters live. But this was my habitat EQT was planning on fragmenting.

Keep in mind that almost every landowner around here has been contacted by mail, phone or in person, many times by a great variety of land agents waving some flash of cash with verbal assurance that all will be well. The normal gas industry land agent’s procedure is to promise untold wealth. The land agent’s goal is to get a signature on a loosely-worded gas company boilerplate right-of-way land-lease contract with terms favorable to the gas company. Landowners around here have all heard a pitch that amounts to:

Just lease this, sell this, sign here. You can surely trust us, after all, we are only a multi-billion-dollar international, just down-the-street, friendly Gas Company, and all we want is complete control over much of your land indefinitely….  So, just trust us. Why worry? Sign here. Take the money. Your grand kids will not miss a little strip of dirt anyway. Besides it is mostly just a hillside. And very steep at that. Yes, sign here!

Despite this kind of pitch, I was not ready to give them surveying permission, but I was willing to let them do a preliminary walk through to hang surveyor ribbons. We had not been shopping around for a new pipeline. Weren’t in the market for one at all. But since a very large high pressure natural gas pipeline would affect all my neighbors, I agreed to allow a preliminary walk with them in exchange for getting my questions answered.

I did not give EQT permission to drive stakes or pins or anything more permanent. And even prior to the walk-through, I wanted some answers to my questions. The responses to my questions would benefit my neighbors also.

Typical Questions to ask any Gas or Pipeline Co. Wanting To Put a Pipeline on Your Property

Whether you want any of the letters, visits and offerings from the land agents or not, these offers usually can’t be ignored. If you fail to object or question the company’s proposals, you could be left with fewer choices later. This is because the companies seek FERC permission for many of the proposed interstate transmission pipelines.

FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is not noted for caring about communities. It’s noted more for its direct ties to the industry it is supposed to regulate and its rubber-stamping of permits. Note that there are several movements afoot to fight FERC. Here’s one proposal for the reform of FERC. And, for what it is worth, here’s FERC’s own booklet: An Interstate Natural Gas Facility on My Land? What Do I Need to Know? A notable excerpt:

The company negotiates a right-of-way easement and compensation for the easement with each landowner. Landowners may be paid for loss of certain uses of the land during and after construction, loss of any other resources, and any damage to property. If the Commission (FERC) approves the project and no agreement with the landowner is reached, the company may acquire the easement under eminent domain (a right given to the company by statute to take private land for Commission-authorized use) with a court determining compensation.

It’s the legal power of eminent domain that can leave you little choice, when (so far “when” and not “if” has been the operative word) FERC grants the final approval for the proposed pipeline.

Note that just filing an application with FERC does not automatically grant the company eminent domain, at least so far in West Virginia. But the potential for eminent domain gives the landsmen the assumption of power over landowners. Eminent domain has been called state-sanctioned robbery of private property by corporations for profit. And so, as one might expect, the landsmen never fail to mention that future possibility, as in, “You might as well give in now since, inevitably we will be able to take your land anyway whether you like it or not.”

I never did get answers to most of my questions and I never saw the surveyors. They came and left their telltale colored ribbons. There were a few e-mails and phone conversations. I was told the pipeline would be 30 inches in diameter. They wanted 125-foot construction right-of-way and 75-foot permanent right-of-way.

At a public meeting, an EQT rep said the closest they would run the pipe to any residence would be 37.5 feet. That number is correct. I asked twice. They said they had the right to but, maybe, probably, would try not to put a pipe that close to a residence. But they could. But they would prefer not to. The 37.5 feet is just one half of the permanent right-of-way of 75 feet.

But then, a few months later, a very short e-mail said that the complete pipeline route had changed and they would not be at all near my property. Maybe my hills were too steep, or maybe my questions were even steeper. Or maybe just too many questions. But EQT said they were no longer interested in my parcel of Almost Heaven, West Virginia. Now that was good news. For now we could enjoy our privacy and peace and quiet.

But, wait there’s more! Read all about it in Push for Pipelines – Part 3, here.

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The Author

Bill Hughes

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