Category Archives: Oil and Gas

Pipelines, Property, and You: What Ohio Property Owners Impacted by Pipeline Projects Should Know

Written by:  Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Several major pipeline projects, which plan to crisscross the state, are in the final stages of preparation. As part of the planning process for a project, pipeline builders plot the path that the pipeline will travel across the state. That path inevitably crosses private landowners’ property. Some landowners may feel overwhelmed trying to understand the rights of private pipeline companies to cross private property in Ohio. The frequently asked questions discussed below should help answer some of the common questions about pipeline projects in Ohio.

Can a pipeline company come on to my property to conduct a survey?

Yes. Prior to building a pipeline, pipeline companies must select a route where the pipeline is to be constructed. A pipeline project usually crosses private property along a proposed route. When a pipeline must cross private property along the project’s route, the pipeline company will ask the landowner for an easement that allows for pipeline construction on the property. However, even before signing an easement, a survey of the property may be necessary to determine the feasibility of constructing a pipeline on the property. Therefore, a pipeline company may need to enter a landowner’s private property to conduct a survey.

In Ohio, the law allows private companies that are organized “for transporting natural or artificial gas, petroleum, coal or its derivatives . . . through tubing, pipes or conduits” to enter upon private land to examine or survey for pipelines. This means that a pipeline company organized for these specific purposes does have the right in Ohio to enter onto a landowner’s property to conduct a private survey for the purpose of pipeline construction.

A pipeline company is telling me that they might use Eminent Domain to acquire my property. Is that legal?

Most likely, yes. A pipeline company may negotiate an easement with landowners which compensates landowners in exchange for the right to build a pipeline. However, landowners may not want to give a pipeline company the right to cross their property. In that scenario, pipeline companies have the option of crossing a landowner’s property by using eminent domain. Eminent domain is the taking of private property for public purposes with compensation.

In Ohio, the same law that allows for companies that are organized “for transporting natural or artificial gas, petroleum, coal or its derivatives . . . through tubing, pipes or conduits” to enter upon private land for survey also allows those same companies to use eminent domain to take private land. The law states that a company organized for the above purpose “may appropriate so much of such land, or any right or interest [to the land], as is deemed necessary for the laying down or building of pipes . . .” This suggests that pipeline companies have the power of eminent domain in Ohio.

Some argue that the law only grants eminent domain rights for transporting gas, and does not extend the right of eminent domain for the transport of gas derivatives such as ethane. While there is not strong legal support for this argument, it is under litigation in Ohio courts.

To use eminent domain, the pipeline company must prove that the landowner and the company were not able to reach an agreement about granting a pipeline easement and that the taking of the pipeline easement is “necessary.” A pipeline company must establish that the taking of property will serve a “public use.” Ohio courts have noted that the term public use is flexible. Accordingly, Ohio courts have held that private pipelines are a public use if those pipelines provide an economic benefit to Ohio. After establishing necessity and public use, the pipeline company must follow the procedures for eminent domain in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 163.

For an interstate pipeline that runs between Ohio and another state, federal law could allow a company to use eminent domain to obtain land from unwilling landowners. Federal law states that a company may acquire property rights for a gas pipeline if the company has obtained a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the company and landowner have not been able to agree on compensation for the pipeline easement. See 15 USC §717(F).

What about the pipeline cases that are in court right now, do those affect my rights?

Ohio landowners have probably heard about several high-profile pipeline projects that are planning to cut across the state. Some landowners have challenged the construction of these pipeline projects on their property.  These landowners are challenging the right of the pipeline companies to use eminent domain to acquire an easement on their property. Two pipeline projects in Ohio are of particular interest: Kinder Morgan’s Utopia Project and Rover Pipeline LLC.

A court in Wood County, Ohio decided in 2016 that Kinder Morgan’s Utopia Project, which plans to run across Ohio and into Canada, did not have eminent domain authority. The court concluded that the pipeline did not “serve the public of the State of Ohio or any public in the United States.” The court based its conclusion on the fact that Utopia did not provide a benefit to Ohio. However, Kinder Morgan quickly appealed that case to Ohio’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Therefore, this opinion is on hold while a higher court decides whether it agrees with the lower court’s interpretation of the eminent domain law.

A second high-profile pipeline case involves the right of Rover Pipeline LLC to use eminent domain for an interstate pipeline project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued this pipeline project a certificate of public convenience and necessity on February 2, 2017. As a result, Rover Pipeline LLC is moving forward with construction on landowners’ property, because a federal court found that the pipeline company has eminent domain authority.

So how do these court cases affect landowners? First, landowners should be aware that other pipeline projects in Ohio likely have eminent domain authority, if they meet the requirements for eminent domain described by Ohio law. Second, landowners should be aware that that the pipeline case that began in Wood County and is currently being appealed is still pending. It is important to note that this case is reviewing the Utopia Project’s right to use eminent domain in Ohio. Therefore, this does not mean that all pipeline companies in Ohio no longer have the right to use eminent domain to acquire private property in Ohio. Instead, this case will determine the fate of that particular pipeline project and whether or not that project has the right to use eminent domain to acquire an easement. In the meantime, pipeline companies continue to have the right to use eminent domain in Ohio.

More information on pipelines in Ohio and resources for landowners considering signing an easement is available here.

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Farm Oil Spill Prevention Plans: Required or Not?

Confusion at Federal Level Leaves Farmers Unsure of SPCC Rule Compliance     

Peggy Hall, Asst. Professor, OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program

A common joke among attorneys is that the answer to every legal question is “maybe,” and that answer is appropriate when asking whether farms will be exempted from complying with the Oil Spill Prevention, Containment and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule.

May 10, 2013 was the compliance deadline for the EPA rule requiring SPCC plans for farms storing above a threshold amount of oil.  But several legislators have spoken out against the regulation and intend to exempt most farms from its requirements.   As we reported in an earlier post, legislators successfully delayed EPA’s ability to enforce the SPCC rule against farms until September 23, 2013, and also drafted the legislation to exempt many farms from the SPCC rule.  But while the Senate and House have each passed proposals with SPCC exemption language, they’ve used two different bills to do so–the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act and the House’s Farm Bill.  Neither bill has passed both chambers and the SPCC exemption remains in limbo today, the date after which the EPA may begin enforcing the rule.

In mid-August, two sponsors of the exemption, Senators Inhofe (R-OK) and Pryor (R-AR), sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding SPCC enforcement.  The letter clarified that Congress plans to exempt most farms from the rule and suggested that the EPA should not attempt to retroactively enforce the rule back to the original compliance date of May 10, 2013.  Time will tell whether the senators’ letter will prevent EPA from penalizing farms that did not have an SPCC plan by May 10 but had an oil spill anytime after the May 10 compliance deadline.

What Should Farmers do about SPCC Plans now?

Farmers who have been waiting to see if Congress would exempt them from the SPCC rule have to make a decision:  comply now or risk penalties for non-compliance.  A few considerations may help the decision-making process:

  • Operating without an SPCC plan carries financial risk.  If a farm that is subject to the SPCC rule does not have a plan but does have an oil spill that discharges into a waterway, the farm will incur additional penalties for failing to have and implement an SPCC plan.  These penalties vary depending upon the size of the facility and the severity of the spill; our research revealed recent fines ranging from $1,500 to over $55,000.  Our research also shows the cost of an SPCC plan from a certified engineer or consulting firm to begin at around $1,000, with higher costs for larger farms.
  • Only certain farms must comply with SPCC.   Farms that store less than 1,320 gallons of diesel, gasoline, hydraulic oil, lube oil, crop oil or vegetable oil aboveground or less than 42,000 gallons below ground do not need an SPCC plan.   All other farms might need an SPCC plan if it’s possible that spilled oil could discharge into a waterway.  To learn more about whether a farm is subject to the SPCC plan rule, visit here.
  • Smaller, lower-risk farms can “self-certify” their SPCC plan.  The SPCC rule allows farms with smaller oil storage and no history of significant oil spills (“Tier I farms”) to create and implement an SPCC plan; other farms require certification by an engineer.  The EPA provides a model template for  Tier I farms on their website.  Be aware, however, that preparing the plan requires some work:  a thorough assessment of the farm’s oil storage, selection and installation of appropriate containment measures and proper training and response practices.  For those who don’t want to prepare their own plan, consider a consultant.  Consulting companies offer services such as assessment, consultation, plan development, certification and future inspections.
  • A farm may be able to seek a compliance deadline extension.   The SPCC rule allows a farm that couldn’t meet the compliance deadline to submit a written request for an extension to the EPA regional administrator for the state where the farm is located.  There are several reasons EPA may grant an extension:  because a Professional Engineer (PE) isn’t available to create and certify a plan, if the farm is located in an area impacted by floods, or because facility modifications could not be completed before the deadline.  For more on seeking an extension, visit this link.
  • Insurance coverage may be at risk.  Non-compliance with the law can negate insurance coverage; most insurers would likely deem the failure to have an SPCC plan after September 23, 2013 as “non-compliant.”
  • Oil storage containment is good risk management.  Even without the SPCC rule, assessing and managing oil storage and handling practices on the farm can pay off.  Consider the recent case of an Ohio farm with a leaking oil tank that polluted a nearby waterway; the farm paid over $15,000 in fines and cleanup costs.

While “maybe” is a good answer to whether Congress will exempt many farms from the SPCC rule, it isn’t a good answer to whether farmers should ignore the SPCC regulation because of the confusion in Congress.  For more on SPCC and agriculture, visit the EPA’s web page.

 

 

 

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OSU Extension Offers Shale Development Workshop for Landowners

Informing landowners who are dealing with shale development is the goal of a day-long workshop offered in Mahoning County by OSU Extension.   “Shale and You:  A Workshop for Landowners” will take place on Saturday, February 23, 2013 at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road, Canfield, Ohio.   OSU Extension’s Agricultural and Resource Law Program is sponsoring the workshop with grant assistance from the USDA’s North Central Risk Management Education Center and host support from OSU Extension Mahoning County.

Educators in OSU Extension’s Shale Education Program will provide an update on shale development in Ohio and address the topics of taxation of shale development income, wealth management, pipeline construction, oil and gas leasing issues and water testing.   In addition to presentations on each topic, the team will also provide information displays and the opportunity to speak individually with educators.  A discussion with a family who recently  experienced shale development on their farm will conclude the workshop.

Registration is $15.  Materials and refreshments are guaranteed to those who register by February 18.  Session and speaker listings, a registration form and other details are available at  http://serc.osu.edu/events/shale-and-you-workshop-landowners.   For shale development resources, visit the OSU Extension Shale Education Program website at http://shalegas.osu.edu.

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