Eminent Domain

 

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The Atlantic Sunrise is not a distribution pipeline to serve customers directly. It is a commercial distribution line–a shortcut to export terminals, including Cove Point, MD.

Much of the gas to be transported in this pipeline is already contracted for export to India and Japan, where gas prices are higher than US prices. By shipping the gas overseas for larger profits, our domestic gas prices are likely to increase.

Yet if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gives permission for this project, eminent domain would be utilized to take our private property for their corporate gain.

Williams is not a public utility, this line is not a public necessity, and therefore should not be allowed to take private property through eminent domain.

Landowners along the right-of-way are among the most directly and most negatively impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, and other similar projects. Typically, people first become aware that a pipeline is intended to pass through their property when they receive a notice in the mail. Landowners faced with this news are on their own to negotiate with the company, navigate the FERC permitting and public comment process, and access unbiased and pertinent information. They face on-going stress, experiencing pressure from Williams to sign easement agreements, concern about the effects of construction on their property, and fear of living near explosive infrastructure. They must also consider costs of legal representation, decreases in property value, and limited options for mortgage and refinancing.

Sometimes, landowners in a pipeline’s right-of-way choose to not allow the company onto their property to conduct a survey. Landowners may also refuse to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company. In response, the pipeline company can threaten to seize the property through the power of eminent domain, the federal power allowing private property to be taken if it is for the “public use.”

The law of eminent domain states that landowners whose properties are condemned must be fairly compensated for their loss. However, most landowners feel that in order to be fairly compensated by the company, they must hire their own land appraiser and attorney. This decision can be costly, however, and may not be an option for many people. The legitimacy of Williams’ intent to use eminent domain is contested by opponents of the project, who cite how “public use” of the property provides no positive local impacts. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline is intended to transport gas out of Pennsylvania through the Transco, so the landowners in its path will not benefit from it at all. Further, it connects to a network of pipelines leading to current export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as controversial planned export facilities like Cove Point, MD .

Throughout Pennsylvania, communities have responded to the expansion of pipelines, and to the threats of large companies like Williams. The need for landowner support has been addressed by a coalition of community groups and environmental organizations who have worked to provide information, increase public awareness, engage with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and develop resistance to the exploitation of Pennsylvania’s resources and residents. Director Scott Cannon of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition has documented firsthand the impacts of unconventional drilling in Pennsylvania through a short film series called the Marcellus Shale Reality Tour. The most recent in the series relates the stories of two landowners impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in the short film Atlantic Sunrise Surprise.

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