Source: Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis
There have been more than 200 instances of courts granting pipeline companies immediate possession of land, while at the same time deferring the issue of how much the property owners will be paid for it, said Robert McNamara, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm based in Arlington that is representing Erb and others in similar situations.
Those cases have occurred in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, McNamara said.
The pipeline affecting Erb was built by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company Williams, which constructed the Atlantic Sunrise project to expand its pipeline network and carry gas fracked from the Marcellus shale formation in northeastern Pennsylvania to the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.
Similar projects have sprung up across the country as fracking technology has allowed natural gas to be extracted in an economically efficient manner.
McNamara acknowledged that federal law gives energy companies the ability to invoke eminent domain to build pipelines. But the Natural Gas Act, the law that governs the land seizures, provides no mechanism for companies to take possession of the land without first negotiating a price with the landowner.
Pipeline companies have gotten around this by obtaining preliminary injunctions from judges, allowing the companies to take the land immediately and pay later. McNamara said this amounts to what is known as a “quick take” provision under the law, which he said is allowed in some types of eminent domain cases, but not pipeline cases.