Dominion’s Pipeline: The Battle Is Joined!

john wayne By Peter Galuszka

One hundred and seventy-eight Virginians will be getting  not-so-merry Christmas presents from the electric utility Dominion Resources soon – official notifications that lawsuits have been filed against them that Dominion demands access to their land so it can survey for a $5 billion natural gas pipeline.

According to the Waynesboro News Virginian, Dominion sued 20 Nelson County property owners and 27 more in Augusta County earlier this week. The rest may be sued in the near future and they will have three weeks to respond.

Dominion is one of several southeastern utilities that want to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 42-inch wide tube stretching from near Clarksburg, W.Va. across the Appalachians and southeastward into Augusta, Nelson and other Virginia counties before heading on down to North Carolina a Tidewater. The pipeline is to transport new natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the Marcellus Shale formation that stretches from New York on into Virginia.

Dominion’s spokesmen say they have the right to cross private property to survey land for a possible pipeline route if they have asked for permission and have not received it. Not so, say some people I spoke with in Nelson County. Anne Buteau who runs an organic farm there told me that the law does not explicitly give Dominion the right to trespass on their land if they say no as many have. It just says that Dominion can ask and if they get no response, then they can move in, she says.

This will obviously be a legal issue to resolve as the cases move into the court. And, this is all pretty new stuff to Virginians who much haven’t had to contend with big energy firms encroaching on their land.

Go a little west and southwest, of course, and it’s a whole different story. As a former West Virginia resident I know well how coal firms will go as far as they can encroaching on private property and streams to get at coal seams they want to blast apart in surface mines. Subsidence from deep mines is also a long-standing problem.

Such a swarm of issues has been around for a century and a half in the coalfields, but not in the picture perfect areas such as Nellsyford in Nelson County. It’s a rude awakening since America’s energy revolution is truly stirring things up and confronting people with issues they hadn’t dealt with before.

I’m of two minds of it. First, natural gas is still safer than coal which still provides maybe 35 percent of our electricity. Fracking has also produced a boomtown rush of shale gas and oil that has turned the American position completely around in a very few years to the country’s advantage. It is fueling a long-in-coming economic recovery and giving the U.S. the economic muscle to tell Vladimir Putin and the Iranians where to stick it.

Yet, fracking does pollute and it does release methane from improperly drilled wells. Pipelines can and do explode and catch fire. It seems odd (and something one never reads about in Virginia) that New York has decided to keep its ban on fracking for gas. Do they know something that Virginia’s leadership doesn’t? Or are we just going to dismiss them as clueless Yankees?

Dominion is pushing ahead hard for this deal, presumably, because its window isn’t really that large. One has to ask, what’s the rush? Prices for natural gas, along with crude oil prices, are dramatically low. So low, in fact, that the mad dash to frack seems to be dampening. There is even talk in the Wall Street Journal that low global crude prices might make the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline economically unneeded and too much hassle.

My guess as to why Dominion wants the ACP so badly and so fast is that it now has the chance to share the $5 billion cost (assuming it doesn’t get another unsolicited multi-million dollar donation from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission) with several other utilities. It does need to think about future generation needs as old coal-fired and other plants shut down. Building a new nuke at North Anna might cost $15 billion – a lot more. Dominion isn’t saying. Gas is now cheaper and acceptable.

One also wonders why Dominion can’t figure out pipelines routes that are not so upsetting. Why couldn’t they use rights of way along Interstate 81 or other highway? Why not workout deals to put them near existing rail lines?

As I work in my office waiting for lame callbacks during the holidays, I have taken to watching old westerns on Netflix. I just finished “The Sons of Katie Elder.” I haven’t watched them in years and never was that big a fan but I have to admit, there are some really story lines there.

A recurring theme has to do with land rights – be it water, a railroad, gold, whatever. And fighting for one’s personal property is as American as John Wayne on a horse. So, I say, ride on! Stay with it, Pilgrims!

 

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47 responses to “Dominion’s Pipeline: The Battle Is Joined!

  1. “And, this is all pretty new stuff to Virginians who much haven’t had to contend with big energy firms encroaching on their land.”

    I am not sure why you think that Virginians haven’t had to contend with big energy firms encroaching on their land. There are a lot of gas pipelines crossing Virginia including one about 250 meters from my house.

    http://www.virginiaplaces.org/transportation/gaspipeline.html

    In addition, the gas transmission system in northern Virginia, such as Dominion’s Measuring and Regulating site in Loudoun County, will be enhanced to push more gas to Cove Point for international export.

    I am not sure why Dominion can’t build more capacity into existing pipelines instead of creating completely new routes. Once you have a pipeline running through your neighborhood does it really matter if there are one, two or three pipes?

    • The reason NY put a moratorium in place on gas development is that the methods of drilling in shale are “unconventional.” Upstate NY and PA have had oil and gas wells since the 1860’s. The modern methods were developed and modeled largely by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea when he worked for Schlumberger as a young scientist. He is now Dwight C. Baum professor of engineering at Cornell and is very active in the fight AGAINST additional oil and gas development. He is probably the individual who can be most credited with the ban on unconventional wells in NYS. He and others have observed what is going on across the state line in northern PA, mostly Bradford, Tioga, Susquehanna, and Lycoming counties, where there have been disastrous “unintended consequences” from this industry. You can listen to Dr. Ingraffea on YouTube, and you can also view videos filmed by Vera Scroggins, an expatriate New Yorker who now lives in the PA gas zone. She has documented dozens of cases of environmental damage. The laws and practices in these two states are a little different. New Yorkers tend to seize what rights are rightfully theirs (many small towns having enacted bans on gas development), while Pennsylvanians tend to defer to authority, even to their own detriment.

      The gas industry entered the area bearing gifts. They funded Penn State’s school of engineering, promised “good paying jobs,” lavished golf trips and other gifts on local officials*, spoke often of “domestic energy security,” renewed long standing lease options for increasingly irresistible “bonus payments” (up to $4000 per acre). PA, for many reasons, lacks experienced gas and oil attorneys. Many people signed, thinking that these new leases would allow small, innocuous, conventional gas and oil wells that are sprinkled throughout the state. Instead, they have been visited (in many cases but not all) with disastrous effects which have forced dairies, vineyards, orchards, and organic produce farms out of business, ripped up 6 generation farms, ruined the prized water supply, routed eco-tourism and heritage tourism. The most active company in the area monetized the leases, went to Wall Street, used them for leverage, and borrowed heavily to expand, then went belly-up (even when the price of oil was well over $100 per barrel). For more on the economic “pyramid scheme” being perpetrated by the gas industry, you can read the NY Times series “Drilling Down,” which dates from approximately 2009 ( http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/natural-gas-drilling-down-documents-4-intro.html?_r=0 ).

      The information is available for those who want to protect Nelson and Augusta counties and the rest of Virginia. Community Environmental Defense Fund is going to bat in Giles County. John Trallo, a PA activist who has seen much with his own eyes, is active in all gas-related issues including pipelines, and is collaborating with CEDF.

      We have reached the saturation point in this country and this state with polluting extraction methods. We need to preserve what we have, learn to live within our means, hold the energy companies accountable (question everything they say, because as Judge Judy says “You can tell they’re lying because their mouth is moving.”)

      *Remember the recent fight to keep the uranium mining ban in place? Rings familiar. Virginia Uranium is largely or majority owned by a Canadian company, promises jobs for Virginians, took elected representatives on “fact finding” trips to France, etc.

      • My problem is – is fracking worse than coal? Or perhaps – if fracking replaced coal – would it be better than blowing off mountain tops and having ticking-bomb ash ponds?

        So are we talking about – a new, more severe threat to the environment or are we talking about a way to continue providing energy but with less damage (or more damage)

        or are we really talking about – the idea of energy – that has consequences even if 1/2 that of coal – we oppose it because even if it is the least damaging.. it still causes damage?

        okay – so here is EDF’s position (and I hold EDF in HIGH regard for environmental organizations. They and NRDC are among the best in my view):

        “Industry likes to say we have nothing to worry about, but the fact is that natural gas development can impose serious risks on public health and the environment.

        So how can we reduce these risks?

        Energy efficiency and renewable energy can slow our demand for new natural gas. But weaning ourselves off natural gas, and other fossil fuels, will take time. Natural gas heats more than half of America’s homes, and supplies more than a third of our nation’s electricity. It’s a critical ingredient in pharmaceuticals and fertilizer.”

        I subscribe to this position. EDF is not saying – stop fracking… it’s saying something different and emphasizes “reducing” damage and “gradually weaning ourselves off”.

        how about it. Do you support EDF”s position?

        • oops – forgot to add EDF’s conclusion:

          ” Substitutes for some uses are easier than others, but even under the best of circumstances, it may take decades to displace all of the natural gas we use today. And, in the mean time, we can’t sit by idly.”

          • This is from EDF’s website:

            While natural gas is an important energy source, EDF is also actively working to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy like wind and solar.

            And from NRDF:

            NRDC supports moratoria on fracking to give states and communities time to fully evaluate the risks and determine whether it’s possible — and if so, how — to protect against them. We have also called for a moratorium on public lands, which are not only home to America’s last wild places, but public and private drinking water supplies for millions of people. While scientific research increasingly indicates fracking poses serious public health and environmental threats, a significant amount of additional independent science is critical in order to understand how to protect against these risks.

            Sounds pretty much like what I just said.

        • We will know in a generation whether fracking is “worse” than coal. We have to consider immediate effects (environmental, community social effects, and economic effects), medium term effects (taking anectodal evidence from the early effects and examining health effects, community effects, and environmental effects, as the state of NY has done with the evidence gathered in PA), and long term effects (projections are that the greenhouse effect of extracting gas will be worse than that of coal, and that the long-term health effects will be felt in future generations). Taking all those into account, the Sierra Club and other environment organizations have reversed their initial positions that gas is a “bridge fuel to the future” (incidentally this is a term coined by the gas industry itself) and now refer to it as a “bridge to nowhere.” It is a band-aid over a limb that needs to amputated.

          • I guess when I see EDF and NRDC change their positions – I’ll reassess. But at this point – it looks a lot like to me the way that other Sierra Club positions are , in my view, unrealistic and intractable.. and make every issue about the use of all fossil fuels in general.

            Even if the Sierra Club were dead on – correct – they’ll never win over enough folks to actually push lawmakers to make changes because in essence what they seem to be calling for is complete abandonment of all fossil fuels.

            that’s a position that – if they really believe it – they should forthrightly own it – up front – to everyone – instead of opposing natural gas on a variety of really irrelevant points in the context of their overall bottom-line position.

            In other words – don’t argue about the ”dangers” of fracking if in the end – you are opposed to the use of nat gas – no matter how safe it could be because you’re actually opposed to it’s use – period.

            be honest in the position.

          • I don’t think they are as opposed to the conventional extraction of natural gas (any more than they are against fossil fuels in general). Unconventional extraction methods are the cause of the massive increase of methane in the atmosphere in the past few years, along with issues like water well contamination (161 cases reluctantly confirmed even by industry-friendly PA DEP), illnesses within a half mile radius of unconventional well activity, problems with disposal of NORMS (which were being dumped into the waterways of PA in two different watersheds), social problems in formerly rural and semi-rural areas, and on and on.

            Unconventional gas extraction is causing the glut of supply and the industry’s desire to liquefy and export it to foreign markets to keep prices high.

          • re: ” We will know in a generation whether fracking is “worse” than coal.”

            we also know right now the damage from coal – right?

            so we oppose coal and now nat gas – and no alternatives other than cut our energy use in half – right now?

          • EDF is not calling for a ban nor a moratorium and NRDC position is calling for a moratorium.

            and I oppose the export of NatGas…

            and I totally support moving away from fossil fuels

            but I do not support actions that would ban fossil fuels and drive up the price of electricity so high that the public reaction would be so reactionary as to actually set back efforts to move to cleaner energy and less polluting fuels.

            that is just as bad as the far right positions – and actually worse if in the end – we end up with a majority of people opposed to these efforts.

            I’m looking for solutions – incremental but real change – not dogma and ideological polarization.

            I just reject the hard left and hard right positions because in the end – they do not result in real change.. just more rancor and divisiveness.

          • EDF is not calling for a ban nor a moratorium and NRDC position is calling for a moratorium.

            and I oppose the export of NatGas…

            and I totally support moving away from fossil fuels

            but I do not support actions that would ban fossil fuels and drive up the price of electricity so high that the public reaction would be so reactionary as to actually set back efforts to move to cleaner energy and less polluting fuels.

            that is just as bad as the far right positions – and actually worse if in the end – we end up with a majority of people opposed to these efforts.

            I’m looking for solutions – incremental but real change – not dogma and ideological polarization.

            I just reject the hard left and hard right positions because in the end – they do not result in real change.. just more rancor and divisiveness, hardened positions – and the public pulling back from even incremental changes – like we see right now with he “EPA war on coal”…

            we need to find what we CAN agree on and move that forward – and continue to work on things we have not yet found agreement on.

            you cannot force change on people that do not want it… and if you try you risk damaging the concept of govt itself in taking on the tough issues.

            that’s my view. I will change it if/when someone convinces me that it’s wrong and I see the EDF taking a harder line. Right now, I believe I’m pretty much in agreement with EDF but I do admit that NRDC has taken a harder stance.

      • bbrezv – have you heard of this organization and what is your view:

        https://www.sustainableshale.org/about/

        they are mentioned on the EDF site.

        • Sure, look at their “strategic partners.” That means that’s where the money comes from.

          https://www.sustainableshale.org/strategic-partners/

          • and these: Environmental Defense Fund
            Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP)
            Pennsylvania Environmental Council

            basic thrust – figure out how to do it right… set standards, best practices, etc

            as opposed to don’t do it at all…

          • That is the basic argument made by Professor Terry Engelder of Penn State, the biggest proponent and promoter of natural gas development. His basic statement, bought into by many unwary Pennsylvanians…”We have to do it in order to learn how to do it right.”

            The example of PA is exactly why NYS has looked at the existing evidence and banned fracking. Please note–there is still conventional gas development going on in NYS. There is no rush to bring a further glut to the marketplace.

            Most people who have studied, experienced, and witnessed the “unintended consequences” of unconventional gas development and who have cautiously decided that they are not in favor, are not exactly flaming liberals. Many are old-school farmers who have seen their neighbors’ farms become toxic zones. Politics doesn’t play much part in this, from what I’ve seen.

          • re: farmers, not liberals… etc… but also strident enviro-weenies who believe any fossil fuel – even any nuke is too much and that we should be using much less energy that only comes from non-polluting sources.

            of which I believe some day – we will… but probably with some nukes of a smaller and safer kind.

            I would like to see more and more breakthroughs – faster and faster to render coal as obsolete as fish lamp oil and to view gas as a complement to solar/wind.

            I am not convinced so far by the fracking issue because it walks and talks to me a lot like the nuke issue… and it lacks, in my view, a realization and acceptance of how much we depend on energy – and that most folks are not going to exist on 1/10 the electricity they do now – for 400 a month.

            and I point out also that there are more than a thousand inhabited islands in the the world – that 1. have almost no fossil fuels 2. do have electricity 3. do not get all of it from wind/solar even though they are ideally sited for both and 4. they burn fossil fuels brought in on ships – at great cost – most of these countries charge 50 cents a kilowatt hour and more.

            If there was a way to have a modern society and economy solely on wind/solar – they will be the first to do it – and so far – it’s not feasible.

            but

  2. little recognized is that private energy companies like Dominion have the right of eminent domain…just like VDOT.

    and I do have the same questions as Don.

    and I wonder why landowners whose land the pipeline crosses don’t become co-owners/investors instead of being divested of their property rights.

    Finally – on Peter’s fracking issue I have this question. What’s the difference on the pipe drilled down to the fossil fuel between oil and gas? Does drilling for oil also use similar techniques and materials as fracking does – maybe ever worse?

    So for how many years have we been drilling for oil – and have ended up polluting the ground water and aquifers? Serious question – how come fracking is dangerous and drilling for oil not?

    • Larry, for a very negative view (probably biased) of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, please see the following url: http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101#.VJvq0XkCA
      I have been unable to find a similar article on the issues with oil wells, but the impact from conventional wells is typically lower than the impact from wells using fracking. In the conventional well (either oil or gas), the well is drilled, the formation is tapped, and the material flows out the well. In fracking (which can be done to both oil and gas bearing formations) it is the injection of material which causes the greater pollution than conventional drilling.
      Only the most die hard supporter of fracking would argue that fracking does not have the POTENTIAL for greater pollution. Note I say “greater pollution”. Conventional wells exploiting hydrocarbon formations also cause pollution.

      • Thanks JNL and thanks for the 101 link also..!!!

        but once they drill aren’t they putting the liquids down the INSIDE of the pipe ? and don’t they ALSO do that with what is known a “tight” oil?

        I’m largely ignorant of the specifics but obviously we’ve been drilling already for oil and gas for some time without, as far as I can tell monolithic damage to water tables and aquifers…

      • JNL – here’s the question. We know some of the terrible impacts from burning coal for electricity – to include – leveling mountain-tops, destroying valley stream and river, raining mercury over the countryside elevating mercury levels in many critters – including fish and finally all those ticking-bomb ash ponds.

        so my question is this.

        If you have to choose between coal and gas from fracking -what would you choose?

        The impression I get from the anti-fracking crowd is that they take no stand on Coal OR worse – they are opposed to coal also.

        so what is a reasonable approach to providing our energy needs?

        maybe some see this as a Sophie Choice – but I just don’t see much of a realistic alternative besides picking of of these two – at least in the short term.

        I’m a supporter of energy conservation as well as wind/solar and a smarter grid that allows dynamic loading so wind/solar can be used when available and the grid switches back to other sources when wind/solar goes away.

        but at the end of the day – we are still confronted with the baseload issue.

        How much do we have to have – and besides coal or nukes – can nat gas provide enough so that we can retire the oldest and dirtiest of the coal plants?

        See I have trouble with the extremes. I have trouble with VDOT’s intractable position – but I also have trouble with folks who seem to be opposed to all options besides conservation/wind/solar and would have us not frack, not burn coal and close the nukes…

        so when I hear the anti-fracking folks – I do respect their concerns – as I believe coal is just terrible.. but I’m interested in hearing from them – what they’d do instead of fracking..

        and if they have none – then I don’t see their position much different than I see Dominions.. position…

        burning fossil fuels is bad. We have to wean ourselves off of it – but it is going to take time.. and hopefully we move fast enough so we don’t end up fatally damaging the earth’s climate…

        but right now -we have a lot of voices in the energy conundrum – and I see more “my way or the highway” stances and positions and very little – “let’s find a compromise way forward”.

        I just don’t think we can work this way. I’m dismayed that we’ve ended up this way – not only on energy policy but other issues.

        we seem incapable of actually dealing with our challenges even though it is our duty to do so.

        so bottom line – as soon as I deduce that a group’s position – is hard and unyielding with no alternatives – I pretty much write them off – whether they are left or right.. I’m looking for folks that want to solve problems and move forward .. even if it’s not perfect harmony.

    • Any landowner could propose a lease of RoW to Dominion that included some level of ownership in the pipeline. But a landowner would likely need to hire counsel and work with other similarly thinking landowners.

      • well they could – and if they had equal footing – they might have a chance to get it – but if Dominion has the power of eminent domain – and it provides them with a superior negotiating position to ultimately obtain a fee-simple, less complicated arrangement.

        but again – there are two kinds of pipelines – the first kind to serve a locality -to serve the homes and businesses in a locality – and the other kind which is to sell the product in bulk to the highest bidder – domestically or internationally – and those kinds of pipelines are not really serving the public interest – but the specific interests of the company and it’s stock-holders and investors.

        and the simple fact is – the public at large – 99% really don’t know the difference and their opinions mostly line up on ideological or political loyalties.. rather than a more informed perspective of what the term “public interest” really means…

        • I think the applicable Virginia statute requires a pipeline to serve the public for its owner to have the right of eminent domain. Landowners could pool resources and file an action for a declaratory ruling that a pipeline constructed to transport gas for export doesn’t meet the criteria. It’s possible to achieve a lot when citizens are willing to get off their duffs and work towards a goal.

          • I think that depends on the SCC and the General Assembly stepping up and protecting landowners and insisting that the claim of public benefit actually meets the definition.

            Like I said – the average person does not seem to know the difference and the SCC and others just do whatever because they KNOW that citizens are – pardon the expression – ignorant of the intent of the regulations.

            If you asked a 100 people the difference between a pipeline that legitimately serves the public interest and one that is a pure entrepreneurial business enterprise – they could not tell you.

            so you have the same problem with the Keystone Pipeline where people don’t know the difference and so they align on ideological and party lines – because they themselves do not know – and the folks on the right portray the issue as one of a legitimate public interest issue when, in fact, it’s not – it’s a pure for-profit business venture to sell the oil on the world market to the highest bidder; there is no direct public interest to the US much less to the landowners whose land is bring given to Trans Canada vie eminent domain..

            we’ve become a country of people who don’t know the facts and who rely on others – often those with political agendas to “inform” them and more often than not – it’s propaganda and disinformation rather than legitimate and honest facts.

          • This isn’t a matter for the GA. The law is clear. For eminent domain to be available, the party seeking its use must show a judge that the pipeline is for the provision of utility service. If landowners are too dumb or lazy to understand their rights under the law, maybe they are only getting what they deserve. There are plenty of things landowners can do, but the operative word is “do.”

          • TMT – if the law is clear – why is it in front of a judge and why do property owners have to defend ?

            Can you show me, for instance, how Dominion has demonstrated that they made a proposal that meets the intent of the law in terms of providing a public benefit?

            You seem to be saying that somehow Dominion is provided with the power of eminent domain by the govt – and it’s the responsibility of the property owners to “prove” the govt wrongly gave the power.

            so I ask – what evidence has been provided to demonstrate that Dominion does quality to use Eminent Domain for this project?

            or is it basically already the default right that Dominion has – to exercise, at will, whenever they themselves think they have met the standard – and the state no longer is involved?

            One would think that EACH application from each company – would have to demonstrate how they meet the public interest – AND that -that documentation is easily available by any member of the public as well as affected landowners..

            where am I going wrong on this?

          • Virginia, like the federal government and most states, has a provision for declaratory judgments. Va. Code § § 8.01-184 to -191. According to a University of Richmond Law Review article, the statute, in effect since 1922, is intended to “afford relief from the uncertainty and insecurity attendant upon controversies over legal rights, without requiring one of the parties interested so to invade the rights asserted by the other as to entitle him to maintain an ordinary action therefor.”

            There has to a bona fide dispute, but the statute allows parties to resolve those disputes “before the damage is done,” so to speak. Landowners don’t need to wait for Dominion to start condemnation proceedings. Rather, they can file suit against Dominion and argue the proposed pipeline is not eligible for condemnation. Both sides would present evidence and argue the law. A judge would decide whether the proposed pipeline met the requirements that triggers the right to condemn land for its construction.

            From what I’ve read, the proposed pipeline doesn’t appear to be one dedicated to delivering natural gas to consumers and businesses and, if so, is not likely to be eligible for eminent domain status. But the court would require each side to present evidence. That seems to me to be the proper way to resolve this dispute.

          • re: ” Landowners don’t need to wait for Dominion to start condemnation proceedings. Rather, they can file suit against Dominion and argue the proposed pipeline is not eligible for condemnation.”

            where does the money come from for these lawsuits? If someone owns land and pays taxes on the land and has little left over except for their living expenses -how do they assert their legal rights?

            re: ” From what I’ve read, the proposed pipeline doesn’t appear to be one dedicated to delivering natural gas to consumers and businesses and, if so, is not likely to be eligible for eminent domain status. But the court would require each side to present evidence. That seems to me to be the proper way to resolve this dispute”

            then why would they be suing landowners as Peter has shown in this post?

            why would Dominion even have standing to sue landowners in the first place since it will impose legal costs on the landowners – and it appears that if they don’t respond legally – Dominion could be given a declaratory judgement to come onto their land.

            what purpose justifies Dominion to come onto people’s land if the people have no interest negotiating with Dominion to start with?

            Are people who own land – legally forced to enter into negotiations with companies like Dominion in the first place? Why can’t you just say you’re not interested like you would with any solicitor at your front door?

            so what justifies ANY company from seeking a declaratory judgement to come on your land in the first place?

            here TMT – this is from Dominions own FAQ:

            ” Does Dominion have eminent domain authority?

            Eminent domain is an action of last resort. Dominion is committed to fair and equitable treatment of landowners whose property would be crossed by our pipeline, and our first priority is to reach an agreement without having to resort to eminent domain.

            The federal Natural Gas Act of 1938 laid the groundwork for an exhaustive approval process that requires the pipeline builder to show the project is in the public good. Similar to roads and schools, energy is essential for modern life. There is a thorough review covering everything from public safety and environmental issues to cultural and historic resources and reasonable alternatives. The public is encouraged to participate. Only after this process is completed, and the project is approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), are we granted the authority to move forward. We reach agreement with landowners about 95 percent of the time, with eminent domain proceedings only, if necessary, with compensation determined by a judge.

            https://www.dom.com/library/domcom/pdfs/gas-transmission/atlantic-coast-pipeline/acp-faq-landowners.pdf

            obviously Dominion thinks their pipeline IS in the public interest !!!

            I would think the SCC – would be balanced in their position to make sure that private landowners rights are balanced with Dominion’s business interests.

          • Larry, eminent domain is an issue for courts to decide. If landowners and Dominion cannot agree on a fair price for an easement or a fee simple interest, Dominion will file suit in court to condemn the land at price to be determined by the court. If the defendant does not appear and defend his/her/itself, the court will likely enter a default judgment against the defendant. Dominion will pay the value established by the court, probably through Dominion’s evidence, and condemn the land. The payment will be made and Dominion will build the pipeline.

            Alternatively, the landowner can fight Dominion in court, arguing the statute does not give Dominion the right to condemn the land in question and, if it does, the offer by Dominion is too low.

            Essentially, effected landowners have three choices: 1) negotiate a sale to Dominion; 2) file a declaratory judgment action; or 3) fight Dominion’s condemnation action.

            Years ago, the Minnesota Highway Department told my grandfather it wanted a part of his lake property to build I-35. They negotiated a price and signed the papers. A neighbor, who owned a farm, didn’t like the State’s price because it split his farm in two and prevented his cows from going to the lake for water. The farmer fought the state’s offer. My grandfather testified for the farmer. As I recall, the court determined the value of the land condemned was higher than the State offered. Of course, in that case, no one believed they could argue successfully condemnation should not be available.

          • TMT – I think you might misunderstand ..

            I’m asking WHY – Dominion even has that option at all

            instead of being like anyone else who would come to your door with an “offer” and you could say “no thanks”, now get off my property.

            How come Dominion has the right to use eminent domain to start with – when other businesses have no such right and you can tell them you are not only not interested but you will call the police if they keep bothering you and the police will come and arrest them for trespassing…

            so back to square one – how come Dominion has the right to tell you that if you do not negotiate with them – they will take your land anyhow?

            what gives them that right?

          • Why does Dominion have access to eminent domain under any circumstances? The law has recognized that a business with a duty to serve all (a common carrier or a utility) needs the ability to construct a network or use a network to reach all it must serve. They normally receive a statutory right to use public RoW. And to condemn private property at its fair market value where no public RoW exists, but where RoW is necessary to fulfill the service delivery obligations.

            Often developers create utility easements on every lot so that power, water, telephone and gas services can be delivered throughout the subdivision. But there can be instances where an existing landowner’s property stands as a barrier to connecting with an areas needed to be served. As you know, the utility will attempt to purchase an easement or a fee simply RoW. In most cases, the parties will agree on the affected land and a fair price. But if this cannot be done, state statutes normally give the utility the right to condemn RoW and the obligation to pay what the court determines to be fair market value. This is the law throughout the entire nation.

            Generally utilities can engage in non-utility business. A gas company can sell stoves and furnaces. Let’s assume it needs a new warehouse to service this business, but no one will sell it land. Under most statutes, the gas company is SOL. It cannot condemn land for a non-utility business.

            In the case of pipelines, the question is whether the pipeline at issue is for utility service (retail or wholesale) or whether it is for some other purpose – say delivering gas to ports for export overseas. As I read the Virginia statute, a landowner has a strong argument Dominion is not engaged in a utility service and, as such, cannot use eminent domain. The place to make that argument is in court.

            But there also may be a federal statute that gives gas companies access to eminent domain for interstate pipelines that can be used for transporting gas for export. If that is the case, the landowners may well be SOL. Their remedy is to talk to their representatives in Congress and try to get the statute changed. But, with a federal statute, landowners are probably SOL.

            This is not hard or magic. One simply must figure out what the law is and is not.

          • that was an excellent explanation!

            and apparently with the pipeline in Va – even though the paper says Dominion has several competitors trying to build their version of the same pipeline – it’s considered a public utility even though it appears that Dominion may try to export it – not that different from the Keystone pipeline which is also claiming to be a public benefit that entitles them to take property from others – for their own business interests.

            so you explanation of the difference between a company providing a utility service to the public versus that same company ALSO engaging in business that is not a universal utility service but instead purely a for-profit business interests.. was good!!!!

  3. for those who hew from a libertarian/conservative perspective, I provide this food for thought from CATO:

    Why aren’t Kelo activists also incensed overvnatural resource development takings The Frontier of Eminent Domain

    “n 2005, the law of eminent domain captured the
    attention of the public at large. Suddenly, everyone
    cared about public use, takings, and the Fifth
    Amendment. As a result of the Supreme Court’s
    decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the issue of
    what constitutes a public use for purposes of eminent
    domain authority dominated the media,
    dinner conversations, state and federal legislative sessions,
    and highway billboards. The public was shocked and outraged
    to learn that city officials could take a private home
    to facilitate a new corporate headquarters and that a state
    could replace “any Motel Six with a Ritz Carlton.” Although
    the Supreme Court had upheld similar takings long prior
    to its decision in Kelo, the public had now taken notice, was
    not happy, and wanted to make sure government officials
    could not knock on the doors of the nation’s citizens with
    the same authority.
    In many natural resource–rich areas of the country, however,
    the knock on the door is less likely to come from a government
    official and much more likely to come from a mining,
    oil, or gas company representative. Once again, this is
    nothing new. Since the early 20th century, state constitutions
    and legislative enactments in the Interior West have given
    broad authority to natural resource developers to exercise the
    power of eminent domain directly to promote development
    of coal, oil, gas, and other state natural resources. These “natural
    resource development takings” have much in common
    with the Kelo-type “economic development takings.” Both
    types of takings grant the condemning authority the right to
    displace private property interests in the name of economic development that will ultimately benefit the public at large by
    facilitating the operations of private firms.”

    http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2008/6/v31n2-4.pdf

    so the interesting thing in BR – is we have several “conservative” folks who blog here – and I have yet to hear one of them discuss the idea of private companies having the right of eminent domain – for private economic purposes…

  4. The only reason the shale plays are working is because of the Feds cheap money policies and all the hedging against lower oil prices. Once those hedges expire, that will be the end of shale drilling as companies fold up shop.

    Dominion would be wise to hold off on their plans, and the state should be wary of pushing tax money into new pipeline development. The big guys in pipelines are merely converting their existing lines to bi-directional configuration.

    • I’m wondering the same thing that Darrell is talking about – is squeezing out the last bit of oil and gas… is it really worth a brand new pipeline? How many years before they exhaust the reserves?

      I hear two scenarios – one that it will last 10-20 years and more and then others are saying 5-10 at most.. either way – one would think a pipeline is a 50-100 year proposition…in terms of a capital investment.

      more than that – some pipelines do serve the public interest – they’ll provided expanded access to areas not currently covered and make more gas available keeping the price lower but some pipelines – (like the Keystone and it sounds like the Dominion) is not necessarily to serve the public interest and the oil/gas will be sold – not domestically but on the world market – which is fine – except things like eminent domain should not apply – it should instead be purely a business arrangement between the company and the landowners…

  5. I found this via Zero Hedge while looking for more shale drilling information.
    You like details, so you should really like this story.

    http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/90220/dangerous-economics-shale-oil

    • I don’t put a lot of stock in a lot of what Zero Hedge says -they’ve been off the mark so many times and they tend to hue to an anti-govt mindset.

      and in this case – they offer a viewpoint – that is not replicated by other industry players – so it’s hard to put 100% faith in what they are saying.

      for instance, the credit markets – you’d think they’d know the score and would not be providing capital to these companies if there was a likelihood that they were – across the board – as an industry- go belly up… but I will allow that – we have seen this herd mentality before and it led everyone, all of us, the entire country to a fiscal disaster…

  6. Sorry. Credit davefairtex and Peak Prosperity blog.

  7. re: ” A recurring theme has to do with land rights – be it water, a railroad, gold, whatever. And fighting for one’s personal property is as American as John Wayne on a horse. So, I say, ride on! Stay with it, Pilgrims!”

    in terms of infrastructure – whether it be for roads, or canals, or railroads – the US – early on – took land rights from some folks and used it to build transportation and commerce routes.

    The Erie Canal, the C&O, the Kanwa and James – and many, many more, the govt expropriated the land along rivers for those who would build and operate canals.

    That practice followed for railroads throughout the East and the West where large quantities of land were given to private corporations to build rail – either directly from land the US did take from Indians or land in the East where the govt used Eminent Domain to transfer land from one property owner to others who would build canals and roads… and rail.

    My point here is not to place blame or advocate for or against the policies – as much to note the justification for the govt being involved in taking land from one landowner and transferring it to other property owners.

    What defines this country compared to other countries but especially 3rd world countries is our robust and mature transportation network – which is by any standard – a creation of a centralized national government – something that many Conservatives now days claim that the founding fathers never intended – but in reality – they very much did – and to the neverending benefit of every one of us – who benefit every day from our national infrastructure transportation network.

  8. Merry Christmas to you too, Peter. May the surveyor-goons knock on doors in another neighborhood than yours.

    As Larry says, we “benefit every day from our national infrastructure transportation network” — even if that network was created through confrontations reminiscent of a Roy Rogers flick.

    I’m not concerned whether Dominion will find this particular pipeline investment to be a good one. Shale gas investment is risky and the world energy market is volatile and they know all that and still want to build it. But I am for the potential employment such pipelines unlock along their path, in places no-one would consider today for industrial development. Once built (even if the initial investment is ill-advised) and serving customers, the pipeline won’t easily be abandoned. As others have said, the gas can even flow in either direction as the economics demands. It becomes another element in “our national infrastructure transportation network.”

    • re: ” As others have said, the gas can even flow in either direction as the economics demands. It becomes another element in “our national infrastructure transportation network.”

      well, fair enough. what product would they be moving after the nat gas is gone?

      or would we be creating more rails-to-trails except pipeline-rights-of-ways to trails ???

      perhaps an interesting question for folks might be to ask why old rail rights-of-ways actually revert to the public – and not back to the original property owner and/or the rail able to sell it for their own profit?

      I guess any/all of this falls down to whether or not someone things it is fair and proper to take land away from a private property owner in the first place.

      right?

      the reason I harp on this a bit is because the same folks who go on and on about property rights – end up saying almost nothing about the taking of land from property owners for private business purposes…

      as the CATO article points out:

      ” These “natural
      resource development takings” have much in common
      with the Kelo-type “economic development takings.” Both
      types of takings grant the condemning authority the right to
      displace private property interests in the name of economic
      development that will ultimately benefit the public at large by
      facilitating the operations of private firms.”

      so if a business condemned your property so they could use it to benefit them in business – it’s “okay” because -ultimately it will benefit the public at large – in some way.. anyhow?

      I don’t really have a pack of dogs in this hunt – other than to point out:

      1. – that most all of our transportation infrastructure that powers the most powerful Nation commerce in the world – DID indeed come from government – national government.. taking land from property owners to build a national transportation grid.

      and

      2. – the property rights folks often come out opposed to the government on these issues – but apparently are mute when the deed in done by private businesses..for private infrastructure

      have I got a point or am I full of BS?

      • Larry, the law has traditionally been that, when a utility no longer needs an easement, use of the land reverts to the landowner. When land came from state or federal governments, reverting the land to the owner gives it to the state or federal government; hence, the ability to create trails on old RR RoW.

        The bulk of eminent domain law is state law, not federal law. This is true even when federal money is involved. Recall my comments about the State of Minnesota building I-35. Even though much of the construction money came from Uncle Sam, the State of Minnesota designed and built the road. It purchased the RoW and, when necessary, condemned land. Your statement that the feds took land from property owners to build the nation’s transportation infrastructure is simply wrong. The states, using some federal money, built the roads. Uncle Sam’s strings come from its willingness to fund projects when certain federal standards are met. But that doesn’t mean the FHWA or US DOT builds roads. Not at all.

        • re: ” Your statement that the feds took land from property owners to build the nation’s transportation infrastructure is simply wrong. The states, using some federal money, built the roads. Uncle Sam’s strings come from its willingness to fund projects when certain federal standards are met. But that doesn’t mean the FHWA or US DOT builds roads. Not at all.”

          nope. you got that wrong TMT.

          you can’t get interstate money unless you are willing to provide a land path to build it on.

          so you have no interstate highway unless you 1. condemn the land and 2. use Federal money. You can’t have one without the other from a practical perspective.

          Second – most of the nations passenger and freight rail right-of-way – came DIRECTLY from the Federal Government.

          and it’s not just the land corridors TMT – it’s the standards that require the roads and rail to meet design and construction standards that when you roll all of these things up – it translates into a NATIONAL infrastructure – not a state-by-state ..different standards ..infrastructure.. but one standard – nationwide.

  9. a common carrier pipeline works similar to a common carrier bus or train service in that the pipeline will provide service to any customer – as opposed to reserving it only for their own use.

    so a common carrier pipeline – owned by Dominion would have to allow other companies to move their gas on the same pipeline…

    and here’s an additional odd thing – many common carrier pipelines are owned by companies that are not energy companies.. much less companies that provide electric generation…

    so it would be like Dominion also mining their own coal for their plants – instead of buying it from the market and transporting it – not on a Dominion railroad but on CSX or Norfolk Southern.

    so why would Dominion get involved in the transportation business?

  10. Pingback: Dominion Leans on Landowners to Survey for Atlantic Coast Pipeline | Cetology

  11. Pingback: Dominion Leans On Landowners Over Pipeline Surveys » We Are Cove Point

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