Yesterday, I watched C-Span broadcast the House vote on approving the Keystone Pipeline, a project that our POTUS has held up approval on and if it passes the Senate, will probably veto. The vote came after the Nebraska Supreme Court handed down a ruling that acknowledges the pipeline company’s right to use eminent domain to obtain their route to another part of the Keystone Pipeline that is already constructed and in use. Having been involved in an eminent domain situation of my own a few years ago with a rather dishonest bunch of land men who were obtaining the right of way for a natural gas pipeline, I decided to relate my experiences in this exact situation. Many people who are against the pipeline have made claims as to how the pipeline company will strip the land owners of their rights and their ownership of the land. Unfortunately, most of these people have no real clue as to how eminent domain really works and my guess is only a very small hand full of this group have ever actually been involved with the process on their own land.
A few years ago, a man showed up on my doorstep saying he was looking for a route for a natural gas pipeline. The fact that he was at my door said that he was this was not truthful to begin. The fact that he was at my door said the route had already been decided on and he was there to break the ice. To say he broke the ice is not exactly truthful because he eventually fell into the very frigid water (me) below the ice as he kept talking. He told me that “wouldn’t it be great if I could profit from a gas line across my property that would pay me about $6.00 a foot.” My reaction was one that caught him off guard ( I laughed!), to say the least because he thought I would jump at the chance to make $6000.00 or so. He was wrong. I already had some knowledge about what gas pipelines were worth for land owners. I wasn’t against having a pipeline across my property but I wasn’t going to give him the permission without a fair price being paid. I told him what I considered was a fair price and he almost fell out of his chair. What I considered fair for the medium size high pressure natural gas line was quite a bit more than what he had offered. A number of my neighbors had accepted without questioning anything. To make this story shorter, after numerous phone calls from this company, I hired a man to represent me. To say the land men were unhappy would be a mild way of putting it. As time rocked along, my representative told me that they were going to condemn my land using eminent domain and take me to court. Condemnation does not occur with out a court hearing in front of the county judge and later state court, if necessary. In an agricultural area, the land owner has a slightly upper hand going to county court as what the court really does is decide on a fair price for the pipeline company to purchase a right of way easement across the landowner’s land. The pipeline company does not purchase or own the land surface. They only own the pipeline that is under the surface of a legal easement and they restrict what can be added to the surface in order to maintain access to the pipeline. It doesn’t restrict agricultural use. In our particular case, my land was the last barrier to the company building the pipeline. Three days before going to court, the pipeline company decided to pay $1.00 less a foot than the first price I quoted them and sign a contract negotiated by my representative that they agreed to only have a single pipeline in the easement with various restrictions. The original contract that they offered would have given them the right to have as many pipelines as they wished without further expense. There is no way to determine what the money and the contract would have been like if we had gone to court but I believe it would have been better than the original contract they offered. The pipeline was built across my property at a minimum depth of 3 ft. below the surface. I still use the right of way for grazing and cropping, not to mention some deer hunting. If I sell my land, I am selling the surface of the entire property but the pipeline under the surface is the property of the company. The next owner would have the same use of the land that I have as the owner of the land. If the pipeline company wants to install another pipeline, they would have to negotiate a new contract with an accompanying amount of money.
Hopefully, Keystone will offer landowners a fair price for the right of way for their pipeline and avoid the stigma and bad press that results from having to exercise eminent domain over many landowners who simply want a fair price. Some land men have learned the lesson of working with the land owner by offering a fair compensation rather than trying to steam roll the land owner into a cheap price. Face it, the pipeline company will get the route they want whether they purchase it or use eminent domain to have a court set the price. It’s hard to buck the power and money that the petroleum industry has. However, all the naysayers who spout how Keystone will simply take away privately owned land are not being truthful in their efforts to defeat a pipeline.
I’m a land owner who supports the Keystone pipeline project and believes Pres. Obama should sign the authorization when it hits his desk!