Here are a few things you get with a pipeline easement: no right to grow trees on it, limited right to put up fences, and if you do, you have to have gates in them that the pipeline company can put their own lock on. But you do get to continue to pay taxes on land you can no longer fully use; land that now contains a potentially corrosive, leaky, explosive hazard that you can’t tap for your own use. And you do get pipeline company contractors coming through at their convenience to mow or otherwise clear the right of way. Contractors who may be somewhat unclear on where the right of way ends and your trees, for example, start. Without ever having to notify you then or tell you later what happened. And it’s even worse than that: you may get another pipeline, and meanwhile the pipeline company will claim rights over local governments and developments. All while the world has changed and the sun has risen on a better way.
All bets are off if there’s a pipeline break
If there actually is a pipeline break, even a minor one like the 6 November 2014 break in Berrien County, Georgia, you also get evacuated while law enforcement, local government, state government, medical emergency vehicles, and of course pipeline company vehicles and personnel use your property without your permission. And not just on the pipeline easement, either. You can see a white pipeline company truck parked on private land in this picture, while the landowner was evacuated. Everybody else also used his land for turning around, parking, and TV interviews.
You paid once; they profit indefinitely
For all this you get: paid a pittance once while the pipeline company continues to profit indefinitely. As Tom Hochschild asked the Lowndes County Commission,
I want to propose a profit-sharing venture between Florida Power and Light, Sabal Trail, and Lowndes County, where a percentage of their corporate profits are given to the neediest families in Lowndes County. This profit-sharing venture would fit nicely into Florida Power and Light and Sabal Trail’s core values of ethical behavior and community enhancement.
Thank you for considering this.
The answer from Sabal Trail or FPL? Crickets.
Which pipeline company?
Southern Natural Gas (SONAT), the owner of that particular 1950s pipeline, is owned by El Paso Pipeline Partners (EPB), which is owned by Kinder Morgan, Inc. (KMI). When each of these corporate mergers occured is unclear even to the landowners with which the latest megacorp purchaser obtained the easement as part of the package, because the new owners are under no obligation to inform the landowners.
Your land (excuse me: formally the easement on your land) is just a tiny minor asset to these megacorps, to be bought and sold like anything else, without your approval or even knowledge. That doesn’t fit too well with family-owned land passed down for generations.
It doesn’t even sit too well with a developer’s ability to put up a subdivision. My neighbors and I successfully fought off a subdivision partly because a pipeline ran through it.
Which easement contract?
If you the landowner want to put up a fence, you may be subject to the new corporate overlord’s latest easement contract. For example:
In general, Kinder Morgan’s right-of-way agreements prohibit the following:
- Buildings, structures or foundations, overhanging roofs and balconies, garden sheds, patios, concrete slabs or swimming pools
- Trees, tree canopy and bushes or shrubs tall enough to restrict line of sight
(Note: Trees should be planted far enough from the right-of-way so that no part of the tree covers or shades the right-of-way area. Bushes or shrubs should typically be shorter than four feet to avoid restricting line of sight.)
- Wells or other boreholes
- Adding or removing soil
- Storage of flammable materials, equipment, bulk goods and vehicles
- Parallel or tapering encroachment by roads or other utilities
- Dumping or burning materials such as waste, scrap lumber and slash
In general, Kinder Morgan’s right-of-way agreements allow the following:
- Raising certain crops
- Livestock grazing
- Hiking and horseback trails
- Sports and game fields, parks and golf courses (subject to limits regarding re-grading, landscaping or paving and on installation of structures such as exercise equipment, goal posts and backstops)
Did you catch these parts: “no part of the tree covers or shades the right-of-way area” and “Parallel or tapering encroachment by roads or other utilities”. That’s right: KMI controls uses of your property that are not even on their easement. They can come on your property at any time through their right of way, they can trespass on your property to trim your trees, but you can’t even build a road paralleling their right of way.
Plus don’t bet on them staying on the right of way while they’re gouging their pipe into your ground. Nashoba Conservation Trust in If Your Property is Affected/Impact to Homeowners quotes INGAA’s Siting and Right of Way for Interstate Pipelines:
‘In addition to the permanent easement required to operate and maintain a pipeline after it is constructed, the company also will require a temporary easement during construction. A permanent easement typically is about 50 feet wide and a temporary easement typically will range between 50 to 75 additional feet depending on the size of pipeline; larger pipelines require the use of bigger equipment and more room to operate. The amount of workspace required is also dependent on the type of terrain that will be crossed and any special construction requirements.”
Now Kinder Morgan’s right of way writeup says:
Kinder Morgan’s right-of-way agreements are negotiated individually with each landowner; therefore, right-of-way widths and terms of agreement may vary with each individual property. A change in property ownership does not alter the right-of-way agreement. Landowners may obtain a copy of their easement agreement from their local county courthouse.
Maybe that’s true, so maybe if you already have an old-time easement from sixty years ago it might not have all the current restrictions. But if you fall for a pipeline easement now, you’re going to get all the most modern terms and conditions conducive to pipeline profit.
Pipeline company over local government and developers
It’s not even just you, the landowner, the pipeline company will want to control. Developer Handbook, Kinder Morgan, Inc., 11 June 2014,
This booklet is also designed for city planners, building inspectors, surveyors, landscape and building architects, and other interested parties who may be working near or approving work adjacent to our easement….
- Send us your plans so we can review and approve them.
That’s right, pipeline companies claim right of review and approval over local governments and developers. You not only get to continue to pay taxes on land you no longer really control, they get to determine how those taxes are used.
Then they’ll want more pipelines
Speaking of “roads or other utilities”, once you’ve a pipeline has encroached on your property, its current owner may want an offshoot pipeline. One of the earliest stories about Sabal Trail in the Valdosta Daily Times, Massive pipeline project may cross Lowndes, by Jason Schaefer 30 June 2013, said:
“You mean to tell me that you can go somewhere else on my land?” Cameron asked the caller, he said. “How many ditches are they going to dig before they get through with all their stuff?”
And pipeline companies will go for eminent domain to get offshoots if they don’t get an agreement for them to start with.
Including pipelines that aren’t even on PHMSA’s National Pipeline Mapper, because they may go to, for example military bases. Do local emergency responders even have appropriate information about such pipelines? How would you know?
Speaking of how would you know, why am I using Kinder Morgan in most of these examples? Because KMI is more transparent than Sabal Trail. After all, Sabal Trail has no history: it’s a shell company (Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC, co-owned by Spectra Energy) managed by a shell company (Sabal Trail Management, LLC), owned by the same Spectra Energy that’s famously “not familiar” with their own (lack of) safety record.
Other companies’ pipelines
And if your property was in a path some pipeline company considered convenient, some other pipeline company may think the same thing later, as is happening right now with Sabal Trail wanting to parallel SONAT. For example the property in Leesburg, Georgia that already has both the SONAT pipeline and a power line easement: Sabal Trail wants to gouge another hundred-foot right of way through between the two. That’s what resulted in the famous court case in Leesburg, GA last July.
More pipelines in the same easement
You don’t even know the same pipeline company might not end up putting another pipeline on the same easement, like Spectra Energy, co-owner of Sabal Trail, is proposing right now in British Columbia, Canada for their pipeline to an LNG terminal.
Pipeline companies pretend it’s still the 1950s
Fifty years ago, ten, even five, accepting a natural gas pipeline on your property might have been a way of supporting your neighbors, your state, your country’s national security. Pipeline companies and FERC keep using all those arguments.
Kinder Morgan’s Developer Handbook starts with these quaint antique words:
Kinder Morgan transports natural gas from the well to your Local Distribution Company (LDC). Your LDC brings natural gas to your home.
But that’s not what a lot of these pipelines are for. Kinder Morgan’s Southern Natural Gas page says:
SNG is the principal natural gas transporter to southeastern markets in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, which are part of one of the fastest growing natural gas demand regions in the United States. The SNG system is also connected to Southern LNG’s Elba Island LNG terminal near Savannah, Ga.
The big money in natural gas is exporting fracked methane for big profit from much higher overseas prices.
The fast rise and impending bust of the LNG export craze
The LNG export craze is new in the last five years because of the “shale gas revolution”, which is a euphemism for fracking. The direct connection between a glut of fracked gas seeking an export market and new pipelines has been spelled out by for example by Paula Gant, head of the Office of Fossil Energy that permitted those three LNG export operations in Florida, and by FERC Commissioner Tony Clark, both in testimony before Congress.
Yet those prices aren’t as much higher as they seem when the costs of pipelines, liquification, and shipping are factored in, and China’s recent deals with Russia for Siberian methane push prices down, with that downward pressure increased by the recent U.S.-China agreement on moving to energy sources with no emissions.
The whole carbon bubble is going to pop, along with the fracked gas LNG export boondoggle, because the sun also rises.
Natural gas is the fuel of the past
The world was different fifty, ten, or even five years ago, before solar photovoltaic panels became the least expensive source of energy in the U.S. Yes, it’s happened that fast. Remember the “shale gas revolution” took off in about a decade, and solar power is moving way faster than that.
Five years from now solar power will be so obviously a better deal for everyone that there will be only one term for people who accepted a gas pipeline easement this year. Ten years from now solar power will produce more energy than any other source in the U.S., as former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff predicted more than a year ago and as actual energy production deployment figures continue to bear out. Natural gas industry analysts brag about a projected 56% increas in shale gas from 2012 to 2014, while actual solar deployments already increased 200% from 2012 to 2014.
Solar power is going to win like the Internet did, because the price goes down year after year and the deployments go up like compound interest. It’s going to happen so fast it will “make your jaw drop with astonishment”. Unless, of course, you’re looking past the pipeline company and FERC flim-flam to the actual energy price and deployment figures.
Don’t be a mark
Don’t be a sucker, a chump, a mark, a rube.
Help the sun rise
Help the sun rise. U.S. electric demand continues to go down, while solar goes up like a rocket. We know how to shift every U.S. state to sun, wind, and water power. We have plenty of natural gas pipelines already in place to pick up the slack while we’re doing that. We don’t need more.
Yes Solar, Wind, Conservation, and Efficiency.