NEW RULES PROPOSED ON EMINENT DOMAIN PROCESS FOR NEW PIPELINES

by | Jan 11, 2017

By Max B. Baker – maxbaker@star-telegram.com

To be frank, the idea of a pipeline running across his prairie really ticked off cattleman Pete Bonds. But not to be paid a fair price for the land only made him madder.

Bonds, who owns 1,000 acres northwest of Fort Worth near Saginaw, said the pipeline company wanted a 50-foot easement and was using the power of eminent domain to condemn and grab it.

Eventually Bonds settled out of court — “I got plenty to do besides sit around a courtroom” — but he thought the pipeline’s power to take his land was simply too much.

“They were making us do something we didn’t want to do,” Bonds said. “But the law in Texas has given them such a big stick.”

As a result, Bonds, who is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and others are keeping a close eye on the Texas Railroad Commission’s recent efforts to more tightly regulate the states’ network of oil and gas pipelines.

Responsible for 426,000 miles of interstate and intrastate pipelines carrying natural gas, hazardous materials and other substances, the agency has been criticized for not doing much more than rubber-stamping applications by pipeline companies that want to lay pipe across the state.

The agency has proposed a set of rules designed to provide more transparency when a pipeline operator seeks what is known as “common carrier” status: a designation that automatically gives the operator the power of eminent domain to seize land.

According to the commission’s general counsel, the proposed rules would create a more developed process that would bring “greater confidence” in the common carrier classification and provide more “certainty for both pipelines and landowners.”

The agency is accepting comments on the proposed rules until Aug. 25.

“We’d like to think that it is the intent of the Railroad Commission to have a more robust process for making that determination,” said Jason Skaggs, executive director of government and public affairs for the cattle raisers.

Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association, said the group is preparing comments and looking over the proposed rules, “making sure the mechanics of the rule can work.” Otherwise, he characterized the agency proposal only as “more burdensome.”

“The pipeline industry thrives on a predictable regulatory environment,” Cannon said. “And as long as we know the rules, we will abide by them.”

But Zach Brady, a Lubbock attorney who represents landowners in eminent domain disputes, said the new process “feels a whole lot like the old process with a few extra pieces of paper attached to it.” He thinks more needs to be done to verify the veracity of the information being provided.