A pipeline company is suing more than 100 landowners in West Virginia in an attempt to get access to their land, claiming that its proposed pipeline has the right of eminent domain.
Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week to force more than 100 property owners and three corporations in 10 West Virginia counties to open their land to surveying for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The proposed pipeline, if approved, would carry natural gas about 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Since it’s an interstate pipeline, the approval lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
In the suit, Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC — which is a joint venture of multiple energy companies including NextEra U.S. Gas Assets and EQT Midstream Partners — states that “it is necessary to enter the respondents’ properties to survey (in order to obtain) necessary rights-of-way, obtain a FERC certificate and construct the pipeline.” The pipeline company says that it contacted the residents being sued to try to get permission to survey their land, but all of them “failed or refused to permit” the company from entering their properties.
Joe Lovett, executive director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, told ThinkProgress that he didn’t think the lawsuit has legs.
“I don’t think the pipeline company has the right to survey people’s property in West Virginia before it’s been granted right of eminent domain,” he said. “This is an attempt to gain a right through litigation that they do not have.”
Mountain Valley Pipeline hasn’t yet submitted a formal application to FERC to build the pipeline — it’s planning to do so in October. But, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the company can’t ask the courts to use eminent domain until it gets a certificate to proceed with the project from FERC.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is supporting three landowners who filed their own lawsuits against Mountain Valley Pipeline last month. Those lawsuits state that the pipeline company doesn’t have the right to eminent domain because the natural gas won’t be used by West Virginians. That means, they say, that the pipeline doesn’t meet the “public use” clause in West Virginia’s eminent domain law.
“Not a single West Virginian will have access to or otherwise use gas carried by the pipeline,” one of the lawsuits reads. “The general public of West Virginia does not have a definite or fixed use of the gas in the pipeline, and, accordingly, has no definite or fixed use of the property on which the pipeline will be located.”
That argument is similar to claims from opponents of the much larger Keystone XL pipeline, who say that the proposed project wouldn’t be built for public use in America, but rather to send Canadian tar sands oil to overseas buyers.
Residents in West Virginia and Virginia have voiced their disapproval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline over the last few months. Some are worried about the pipeline’s potential impact on local watersheds, and others are concerned about the line disrupting the natural beauty of their counties. In March, residents in Craig County, Virginia submitted a petition against the pipeline that was signed by 1,221 people.
“The pipeline will provide no benefit to this region and it will endanger health, the natural resources, the water quality, the cultural values, tourism, property values and citizen safety,” read the petition, which was submitted to the county’s board of supervisors.
The Board of Health of Monroe County, West Virginia — one of the counties on the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed route — has also spoken out in opposition to the pipeline.
“The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline poses a significant and substantial risk for the health and welfare of Monroe County residents,” the board wrote in a February open letter. “The pipeline is designed to pass close to a public school and a long term care center, risking the welfare of some of our most vulnerable residents. Most importantly, our pristine water supplies will be in constant danger of contamination from runoff and turbidity.”
Though natural gas pipelines on average have fewer overall incidents, such as spills, than pipelines carrying other hazardous liquids, they do have more serious incidents that result in death or hospitalization. In 2012, a natural gas pipeline explosion destroyed four homes in West Virginia.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline isn’t the only line that West Virginians are grappling with. Just last month, the Texas-based Columbia Pipeline Group filed initial paperwork with FERC for its proposed Leach XPress Pipeline, a 161-mile natural gas line that would travel through southeast Ohio and northern West Virginia.
The 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline has also run into opposition in West Virginia and Virginia. In February, ten people were arrested while protesting the pipeline, which would carry 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from West Virginia to North Carolina. And in January, a group of concerned residents traveled to D.C. to discuss their worries about the pipeline with FERC.