Feds Give Power of Eminent Domain to Pipeline Co. in Pa.'s Marcellus Shale Gas Field
January 31, 2012
A pipeline operator assured federal regulators it would minimize using eminent domain against private landowners if given approval to lay a 39-mile natural gas pipeline in northern Pennsylvania's pristine Endless Mountains.
Eminent domain would give the company the right to excavate and lay the 30-inch diameter pipeline on private property. Landowners would not lose their properties and would be compensated.
Residents are fighting the pipeline on two fronts: challenging the eminent domain proceedings in court and appealing the approval by FERC. Because those challenges are pending, commission spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen declined Tuesday to comment on whether the agency was misled.
The pipeline operator, a subsidiary of Inergy LP of Kansas City, Mo., insists it's trying to reach a "fair settlement" with all residents and wants to be a good neighbor.
The company promotes the MARC 1 pipeline as key infrastructure in developing the Marcellus Shale, a vast rock formation underneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states that experts believe holds the nation's largest reservoir of gas. The high-pressure steel pipeline will connect to major interstate pipelines and the company's own natural gas storage facility in southern New York state.
"Once the government becomes involved, this is what happens. Because you lose that leverage," said Amy Gardner, who, with her husband, faces condemnation of part of their 175-acre parcel in Sullivan County.The Gardners say the company offered them less than a third of the amount they got from another pipeline company that installed a gathering line on their land. The difference? Gathering lines — smaller pipelines that take gas from the wellhead to a transmission line or processing facility — are not federally regulated and companies that operate them don't have condemnation power.
Amy Gardner said a CNYOG company representative who made them the lowball offer told them to "take it or leave it." She would not publicly disclose what the company had offered.
"There's no negotiating with this company. They come and they tell you what they're going to do. They're telling you what they're going to pay. And they're counting on the government to enforce it," Gardner said in a recent interview at the Sullivan County Courthouse, where a judge has scheduled a mid-February hearing on the landowners' concerns.The company insists it has met its obligation to negotiate and has reached private agreement with more than 80 percent of the landowners. Its attorney, Michael Wright, said there were several "meet-in-the-middle cases" involving compromise.
"It's not like we were sitting silently until the FERC order and rushed to the courthouse," said Wright, who is based in Vestal, N.Y. "To say we did not attempt to negotiate in good faith is incorrect."Amounts offered by the pipeline company range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of property taken. Court papers it filed in late December valued damages at 37 condemned properties in Sullivan County at $310,900 — from a low of $120 to a high of $39,570 for land owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The commission ultimately determined the pipeline would not significantly impact the environment and allowed it to proceed.
"That's not negotiation. It was their way or no way, and 'we'll see you in court.' It's the little guys against Goliath," said Swartz, who has challenged the company in court.Another landowner, Lisa Richlin, has appealed to federal regulators to force Central New York Oil & Gas to abandon plans for an access road along her property. Richlin said the road is at the bottom of a long hill and around a sharp bend where there have been many accidents, at least one of them fatal.
When Richlin pressed the company to use an alternate route a short distance away, she said, the company told her that would cause a six-month delay.
"I want them to go elsewhere. I don't want somebody to die because of stupidity," she said.In a statement, the company said it has accommodated dozens of landowner requests for route changes, but can't do more because of "environmental, cultural and biological restrictions as well as other land use constraints."