President Obama’s decision to halt construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline has not stopped plans for segment passing through East Texas. And KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports a group of landowners has organized to fight back.
Julia Trigg Crawford owns a 600-acre farm outside of Paris, near the Oklahoma border.
She says TransCanada approached her about four years ago saying her property was on the proposed route for the 1900-mile Keystone pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf. TransCanada wanted to buy an easement through Crawford’s property. When she objected the company condemned her property. Now Crawford is fighting the condemnation in court claiming TransCanada doesn’t meet the criteria for using eminent domain.
Crawford: We are also asking, “What are you piping through this thing? How are you complying with the Texas Natural Resources Code which doesn’t even list the product they’re piping through as one of products you can haul. I’m also saying they’re not complying with the Texas Antiquities Code because of the Caddoan artifacts on my place.
On Monday, Crawford and a group of landowners held press conferences across Texas opposing TransCanada’s continuation of the project. Former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina has joined the effort. So has former Dish Mayor Calvin Tillman who says the property condemnation in these cases is just like what happens when natural gas companies want to lay their pipelines.
Eleanor Fairchild, another land owner near Winnsboro, voiced a common concern. She says so much pressure is needed to push thick, sticky tar sands oil through the pipeline that it’s more vulnerable to leaks.
Fairchild: It is dirty stuff. It’s scary to me they would want to put it in a pipe that’s less than a half inch thick and put it under 1500 pounds of pressure.
TransCanada confirms it is moving forward with the condemnation of Texas land where the owners won’t agree to a settlement.
TransCanada’s Shawn Howard says the Texas Railroad Commission gives them the authority to do that.
Howard: It’s treated like a utility. The need for this product is clearly demonstrated. We are following the rules that are established in Texas and other states to the letter. This will operate at a degree of safety that is much higher than any of the current pipelines in operation today.
Pipeline opponents say these eminent domain court cases have the potential to overturn state law by determining whether the condemnation process is fair, and whether pipeline companies qualify as “common carriers” with the authority to seize personal property.