Saturday, April 14, 2012

WHO's land is it?

Find out in the FW Weekly

What will YOU do when they want yours?

But TransCanada wouldn’t do that. The firm, hired to move tar sands bitumen — a mix of sand, clay, and water saturated with an extremely dense petroleum — from Alberta, Canada, to the Houston refineries along what’s been dubbed the Keystone Pipeline XL, upped its offer on the easement a couple of times between 2008 and 2011 from $7,000 to $21,000. When the Crawfords continued to say they weren’t interested, TransCanada went ahead and condemned the land it wanted in September 2011.

Since then, the two parties have been in a legal wrestling match pitting the Crawfords — farm manager Julia Trigg Crawford, her younger brother and sister, and their dad — against a multinational billion-dollar corporation that claims the right to take, by eminent domain if necessary, any land they want to lay pipe on.

It’s the latest version of the David and Goliath story that has already affected thousands of Texans who’ve been steamrolled by the natural gas industry. But this version goes beyond the usual pipeline land-grabs, because it involves a company taking property years before it will obtain a permit to lay the pipe — a company that may not be in compliance with Texas law and therefore may not have the legal right to take anything.

Despite those questions, TransCanada has been involved in at least 89 eminent domain land seizures in Texas alone. The fight involves the issue of which government agency, if any, oversees pipeline companies and their use of eminent domain. Landowners are asking why there is nothing in state law to make a company show the need for a new pipeline before it is allowed to seize private lands — and why individual landowners are having to go to court to thrash out issues that they believe should be covered by state law and public policy.

It’s an issue that seems designed to make Texans, with their love of the land, stand up and shout for answers. But few have. Oil and gas companies, as well as the pipeline companies, generally get to do pretty much as they like here, and even the people who know they can fight also realize they have little chance against companies that can hire lawyers by the carload and drag out lawsuits for years.

In this state, pipeline companies have been turned down only once in more than a hundred years, in taking land by eminent domain. And perhaps the most difficult part of fighting the pipeline companies is that the moment they file to condemn your property through eminent domain, they are considered to own the easement that’s been condemned and have the right to begin laying pipe. That’s a tough hurdle even for a landowner with deep pockets.

The Crawfords are one of a handful of families trying to fight back. They simply don’t want any of their land used for an easement for a pipeline that could rupture and ruin Bois d’Arc Creek, one of their farm’s primary water sources. They don’t want the Caddo Indian artifacts that lie just beneath the surface disturbed. They don’t want to say “How high?” just because a company demands they jump for private profit. For the Crawfords, it’s not about getting a better financial settlement from TransCanada in exchange for allowing them to lay their pipe: It’s about principle.

No comments: