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Uproar over Keystone XL put eminent domain issue in state spotlight

From Staff Reports
Aug. 2, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.


Texans take pride in their private property. More than 95 percent of land in the Lone Star State is privately owned. And sometimes pipeline companies want to use parts of that land for their projects.

Typically, a pipeline company will reach an agreement with a landowner on compensation, but in the event an agreement isn't reached, pipeline companies can use eminent domain to "condemn" the land needed.

In the past few years, battles over the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects have helped bring the conflicting issues of eminent domain and landowner rights in Texas into the spotlight.

Some landowners - such as Julia Trigg Crawford, the Northeast Texas rancher who has been fighting for years to keep Keystone XL off her land - have refused to sign agreements with the Canadian corporation building the pipeline. In response TransCanada Corp. has filed claims of eminent domain - more than 100 in Texas alone.

Some landowners argue they have no recourse when this happens. A county commissioners court can only assess the value of the land to be condemned, not determine whether the company has a right to seize land in the first place. As Trigg Crawford's case illustrated, fighting a company's claim of eminent domain in court can be costly and time-consuming.

Under existing rules, all a company has to do to get eminent domain is check a box on a two-page form to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates drilling and pipelines in the state.

By checking that box, the pipeline company says it is a "common carrier," i.e. a pipeline that will be available at market rates for other companies to use, and therefore in the public interest.

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