Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

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Eminent Domain For Export? Brazen & Bizarre

eminent domain In: Eminent Domain For Export? Brazen & Bizarre | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River


“…the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already determined that pipelines can use eminent domain and the Energy Department ruled in the Cove Point LNG terminal application that authorization for export is not inconsistent with the public interest, citing economic benefits of the project.”

This bizarre interpretation of “public interest” to mean a single corporation instead of the public goes totally contrary to the meaning of the words in the English language.  In the above quote, the “economic benefits of the project” go to one profit-making business and most definitely NOT to the public.

This is nothing new, just a bit more brazen than before.  In the issue with Silver Springs’ Sleepy Creek, Judge E. Gary Early ruled that the company had the right to cause further harm to the springs by withdrawing more water because his profit-making cattle ranch was in the public interest.

Yes, the adjective here is “bizarre,” because the public loses something (the quality of the river and springs) while one man gains money.  And with the deployment of eminent domain to force a pipeline through an individual’s property, the corporation gains money, and the public loses its land.  How anyone can construe that the pipeline owner’s profits are in the public interest is way, way, beyond this writer.

The following article appeared recently in the Houston Chronicle.  Thanks to Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson for the link.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


Are pipeline land takings in the public interest if oil, gas headed overseas?

By L.M. Sixel

April 4, 2018 Updated: April 9, 2018 8:12am

Photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg

Pipelines are increasingly carrying crude and natural gas bound for foreign markets.

Pipeline companies in Texas and other states have long had the power to take land under the eminent domain principle that projects to transport energy to heat homes, generate electricity and produce fuels are in the public interest.

But what if the public is in Europe, South America or Asia?

As natural gas and crude oil produced in Texas are increasingly exported, environmentalists, property rights advocates and legal specialists are promoting a novel legal argument to block pipelines, asserting that projects that help ship energy out of the country don’t benefit the American public and should not be eligible for eminent domain takings. In fact, they note, exporting energy may hurt the public’s interest by decreasing domestic supplies and raising costs. Australia, for example, exported so much liquefied natural gas, or LNG, that domestic supplies dwindled and prices doubled for Australian consumers.

david bookbinder In: Eminent Domain For Export? Brazen & Bizarre | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
David Bookbinder

“Public use does not include shipping (gas) to China,” said David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the Niskanen Center, a property rights advocacy in Washington. “We’re saying no.”

The argument has not been tested in court, but the Niskanen Center is already preparing challenges against land takings for pipelines feeding LNG export terminals and considering intervening in existing cases to aid property owners fighting eminent domain actions. Analysts said the issue of whether energy exports are in the public interest also could provide a new line of attack for environmentalists, who have been largely unsuccessful in legal challenges based on the impact of pipelines on natural resources and climate change.

“I see an avenue,” said Robert Ineson, executive director of LNG at the research firm IHS Markit.

Advances in hydraulic fracturing and drilling technologies are driving a second shale boom that is producing record amounts of natural gas and crude oil, which in turn has spurred a surge in exports and billions of dollars in investments in pipelines and terminals to move fossil fuels from Texas shale plays to foreign markets. The Houston LNG company Tellurian, for example, has proposed a $7 billion pipeline network to transport natural gas from the Permian Basin in West Texas and Haynesville shale, which straddles East Texas and Louisiana, to pipelines servicing Tellurian’s proposed Driftwood LNG export terminal south of Lake Charles in Louisiana.

Several companies are also building pipelines to move crude and natural gas from the Permian Basin in West Texas and Eagle Ford shale in South Texas to export facilities in Corpus Christi.

U.S. crude exports, which resumed at the end of 2015 after a 40-year ban, averaged more than 1 million barrels a days last year, double the exports in 2016, according to the Energy Department. The U.S. exports about 3 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from two terminals: the Sabine Pass complex owned by Houston’s Cheniere Energy and Dominion Energy’s Cove Point in Maryland, according to the American Gas Association. Domestic consumption averages 70 billion cubic feet on natural gas each day.

But with the United States awash in low-priced natural gas, U.S. exports are poised to grow with new facilities expected to add another 9.6 billion cubic feet per day of capacity by the end of 2019, according to the Energy Department. Gov. Greg Abbott recently lobbied top energy officials in India to import more LNG from Texas.

Several companies are developing export terminals, including the Houston pipeline company Kinder Morgan in Georgia and Freeport LNG, also of Houston, along the Gulf Coast. Cheniere, meanwhile, is expanding its Sabine Pass complex in Louisiana and developing a new processing plant near Corpus Christi.

Pipeline companies said they don’t expect overseas destinations of crude oil and fossil fuels to affect their eminent domain powers, which allows them to take property as long as they compensate landowners for the fair market value. Chris Stockton, spokesman for Williams Cos., which operates about 15,000 miles of interstate transmission pipelines nationwide, said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already determined that pipelines can use eminent domain and the Energy Department ruled in the Cove Point LNG terminal application that authorization for export is not inconsistent with the public interest, citing economic benefits of the project.

The economic benefits of LNG projects can be substantial. Freeport LNG, for example, is investing $14 billion to develop its LNG complex in Quintana Island near Freeport, creating thousands of construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs when the project is completed next year. Unless FERC changes its policy, said Stockton, Williams is not worried about losing the power of eminent domain for pipelines moving natural gas destined for foreign markets.

ellis In: Eminent Domain For Export? Brazen & Bizarre | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Luke Ellis

But Luke Ellis, an Austin eminent domain lawyer who represents landowners, said the public interest question surrounding exports provides an opening to challenge land takings in court and is almost certainly on the minds of pipeline executives. He cited one company that was running a natural gas pipeline from West Texas to Mexico, but added a spur to bring natural gas service to the tiny Texas border town of Presidio for the first time — a move Ellis said appeared aimed to avoid the question of which public, Mexican or American, was served by the project.

“If we can show that gas that comes out of the Permian Basin and goes into the pipeline and is processed into LNG and then gets shipped out overseas with no use by the public and no intention to do it any differently, I think there is a legitimate public use challenge,” Ellis said. “I’d love to take it on.”

The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, rejected Ellis’ contention. A spokeswoman, Lisa Dillinger, said the company often installs branches from its pipelines to enable local economic development opportunities. On the Trans-Pecos pipeline, she said, Energy Transfer paid to install six branches in the three counties the pipeline traverses, including three in Presidio County.

“We do this not just because it is good business, but also because we recognize the importance of being a good neighbor and business partner in areas where we operate,” Dillinger said in a statement.

Leslie Kinsel, who raises cattle on her family’s 2,500-acre ranch south of San Antonio, was approached by Williams Cos. about two months ago about running a pipeline to carry gas across a three-mile stretch of her land. Kinsel is already embroiled in a lawsuit over the value of her land taken for transmission lines by a utility. But at least with that project, she knows that the energy will benefit people in Texas.

With the pipeline, Kinsel said, she has no idea whether the gas would be converted to LNG for export, nor does Williams, which said it could not know the final destination for the gas after the pipeline moved it to a storage facility. But if the gas was sold overseas, Kinsel said, it would make the eminent domain proceedings harder to take.

“It’s not our public,” she said. “It’s China’s public or Japan’s public, or whoever gets the shipment on the other end.”

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  1. I’m a Houston resident, with inherited property in Oklahoma. Cheniere is putting a 36″ high pressure gas pipeline through the middle of my property, crossing a river that supplies water to Oklahoma City.
    The stated purpose of this pipeline is to move gas from Oklahoma to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass refinery, for ultimate shipment overseas.
    I’ve been fighting them off for a year now, and I’m coming close the end of my battle. Either I sign the contract, or they put the gas line closer to the site where I intend to build my retirement home in the next few years. Of course, they’re also going to pursue eminent domain if I don’t sign.
    My dream for the last 30 years has been to move back home to the rural quiet, with very little noise/light/sound pollution. My tranquility has been shattered – regardless of how “safe” they tell me this is.
    How is the taking of my property for the profit of a corporate giant “for the public good”? Short-term jobs? The construction of this pipeline will take months – not years, then that economic interest to the public is gone. Imagine if Facebook/Cambridge Analytica said “we’re going to put this little computer chip under your skin. You have to leave it there, you have no choice. We’ll pay for the doctor to put it in. That chip is going to gather data about your movements, and we’re going to use that data for our own profit.”
    In both scenarios, a big company is taking something that isn’t theirs to take, they are inflicting a very personal harm to a person, they are making a profit of it, and we are given compensation of the “market value” of that space that is taken – because you can’t truly measure the value of the loss of your privacy and tranquility.

  2. The way FERC and the Department of Energy were going, this is not at all surprising, though so very deeply troubling. So the deed to the property that I purchased privately is only as secure as an oil company’s decision that they need to take it from me to export for profit. That is not democracy anymore, but pure corporatocracy.

  3. Just ghastly for our land and water. STOP!!!!!!!!!! Leave our water and beautiful land to Mother Earth so our children’s children can enjoy!!

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