NJ Residents Unhappy with Pipeline’s Power of Eminent Domain

This is a cautionary story. You know that MDN is pro- but safe drilling. You may also know that MDN does not think, in general, that pipeline companies should be granted status as public utilities with the right of eminent domain—the right to condemn and take land for its own use in constructing a pipeline. But pipelines are a complex issue. Should large, interstate pipelines be granted public utility status? Perhaps. They are similar to large electric lines running through a state. But what about smaller, gathering pipelines? Should they have the right to cross any property they want? MDN says no.

There is a large, interstate pipeline that runs from Texas all the way through Ohio and Pennsylvania and into New Jersey called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. It brings gas from many locations, including PA’s Marcellus Shale, to east coast markets. The Tennessee has made an application to expand and add to the pipeline, allowing extra capacity, along a length located in New Jersey. Part of the new construction cuts through a state park.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of the Texas-based El Paso Corp., plans to run a 30-inch diameter pipeline next to the company’s existing 24-inch pipeline, that will bring natural gas from fracking projects into New Jersey from Marcellus Shale gas wells throughout the Midwest and Pennsylvania.

"This is an application for a permit to cross state parkland which supports wildlife. The DEP takes this very seriously," said Larry Hajna, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "If (the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.) wants to cross this land, they have to show us how they can do this with the least possible disturbance to wildlife and the environment."

According to the Tennessee Gas, the project will clear-cut trees from a five-mile-long, 125-foot-wide swath of land through High Point State Park.(1)

A public hearing was held yesterday in New Jersey and the result, for those who oppose further expansion of the Tennessee, was not good news:

The state Department of Environmental Protection has no power to stop the natural gas pipeline that is planned to cut through High Point State Park, a state official said Wednesday.

Judeth Yeany, the chief lawyer for the DEP Legal Services and Stewardship Division, said the Tennessee Gas Co. has eminent domain powers over all landowners along the proposed path of its pipeline expansion project, including the state, which owns the park.

"The state does have to take into account that (Tennessee Gas) has condemnation powers over landowners," Yeany said at a public meeting at the Montague Municipal Building.

The best the state can do is negotiate a better deal for the state that would include between $7 million and $8 million in lease payments and the purchase of 120 acres of replacement land for the state’s Green Acre rolls and the planting of trees.

Other than that, the state is powerless.

Dan Gredvig, the manager for the Right of Way and Permitting division of El Paso Corp., the parent company of Tennessee Gas, said the federal government has the final say over the pipeline project, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission already held its public hearings on the pipeline project set to slice through the state park months ago.

"FERC is in the process of reviewing our environmental impact statement before they issue their final ruling," Gredvig said.

However, the federal government would have little legal ground to stand on in denying the permit for the High Point pipeline expansion when it has already issued permits for the Tennessee Gas 300 pipeline project, which runs 25 feet away from the proposed expansion pipeline in Vernon.

That project began in March, and has been criticized by residents of Vernon, who are still digging out from a mudslide that washed down from the pipeline construction sites onto township roadways during the rain storm last week.

"I want people to know what they are getting. Our town is destroyed, it looks like hell and they don’t care," said Beth Budds, of Vernon. "How do you put a price on this? Once it is gone we can’t get it back."(2)

Should large pipelines have the power of eminent domain? A tough issue. It’s a very powerful “right” to confer on a corporation. There is precedent—just look out your window at the power lines running along the road. Your local gas & electric company was granted eminent domain to run those lines. However, pipelines don’t typically follow roadways but instead cut across properties. And in some cases, across state parks.

What do you think? Should interstate pipelines have the right of eminent domain? Should smaller gathering pipelines also have that right? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

(1) New Jersey Herald (Aug 15, 2011) – Pipeline hearing will focus on plan for High Point State Park

(2) New Jersey Herald (Aug 17, 2011) – State has no power to block gas pipeline