Oil Company Threatens Landowners: Give Us Property Rights Now, Or You’ll Get Less Money

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Those opposing the Keystone XL pipeline hold up banners during the U.S. State Department's sole public hearing in Grand Island, Neb., Thursday, April 18, 2013, to allow citizens to make their views known.

TransCanada has doubled down on Nebraska landowners refusing to sign over their land to Keystone XL, warning them that if they don’t accept the current offers by May 14, future offers will be far less lucrative.

The deadline comes months after TransCanada upped its cash offers to Nebraska residents by as much as 700 percent to try to persuade them to allow their land to be used for the pipeline’s route. In January, the energy company offered one family $61,977.84 to allow the pipeline to run through their farmland, a huge increase from the $8,900 the company offered them in 2012. The company has offered landowners as much as $250,000 to turn over their land, with some easements including crop damage and land-use compensation.

Now, however, the company says it will not be making any further increases to the easement offers.

“No matter what we do, some people are going to criticize us, but these offers are not going up,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said.

There are still about 115 landowners who are refusing to sign easements with TransCanada — close to 25 percent of Nebraska’s landowners who are in the proposed path of the pipeline, Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, told ThinkProgress. Kleeb said she’s seen the same tactic used by TransCanada multiple times since 2010 — the company will threaten landowners with deadlines, saying their easements will go down if they don’t sign, but every time the easements have only increased. TransCanada has also threatened Nebraska landowners with eminent domain and have said they’ll take away their signing bonuses, but each time, nothing has come from their threats, Kleeb said.

“This new deadline is just an arbitrary deadline – they have set many, many deadlines,” Kleeb said. “This is an empty threat, and our landowners are laughing at it.”

Kleeb said she’s confident this deadline won’t convince Nebraska landowners to accept TransCanada easements. TransCanada wants to be able to say that they’ve gotten 100 percent of the landowners to cooperate in Nebraska before Obama makes his decision, Kleeb said, but she doesn’t think that will happen.

“The landowners that haven’t signed with TransCanada yet — for them, it’s not about the money, and we aren’t sure why TransCanada hasn’t gotten that message yet over the last five years,” she said. “They don’t want more money — they want their lives back, and they certainly don’t want the terms of the contract that TransCanada continues to put in front of them.”

Kleeb said in January that TransCanada’s contract “pushes a lot of the liability onto landowners’ shoulders,” and doesn’t stipulate whether landowners would receive damages if the pipeline were to leak on their property. It also doesn’t stipulate that TransCanada has to remove the pipeline after it’s done using it.

Nebraska is the only state where landowners have continued to hold out against Keystone XL — in South Dakota and Montana, all landowners in the pipeline’s route have accepted easements. In Nebraska, the court process can allow a landowner to have a jury of his peers set the price for his land, and because the price can be “astronomical,” Kleeb said TransCanada hasn’t taken anyone in Nebraska to eminent domain court.

A District Court in Nebraska ruled in February that the governor couldn’t approve or reject pipeline plans, and that companies must instead go through the state’s Public Service Commission. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is appealing that decision, and Kleeb said she was waiting to hear whether the Nebraska Supreme Court would take up the case before they close in July, and if they don’t, TransCanada will either have to file with the state’s PSC and wait for a permit, or hold out in case President Obama gives the pipeline a conditional approval, based on the PSC’s decision on the route.