Officials from a company that wants to build a natural gas liquids pipeline across Kentucky have been holding public meetings in several counties along the proposed route. One lawyer says he doesn’t see examples of eminent domain being used in similar cases.
If the Bluegrass Pipeline is built, it will transport the byproducts of natural gas drilling—materials like butane, propane and ethane—from Pennsylvania to processing plants on the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the pipeline already exists, but the 600 mile segment across Kentucky and Ohio would be new construction.
Right now, land agents have fanned out along the proposed path of the pipeline, asking for permission to survey. They’ve met some resistance. And from the beginning, the specter of eminent domain has been there. People worry: if they refuse, could the company come across their land anyway?
Rick Sparks said he doesn’t see any precedent for that. Sparks is the Franklin County attorney, and looked at cases in Kentucky that have used eminent domain in the past.
“Looking for cases using eminent domain for a strictly transfer pipeline of natural gas liquids by private company without any public benefit, I couldn’t find any cases that permitted eminent domain for that use,” he said.
Sparks says comparisons could probably be made between the potential easements for the pipeline and the broad form deed. The latter was a contract used by coal companies to buy rights to land during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As technology advanced and strip mining began, the deeds were interpreted by courts to include the surface of the land, even though landowners commonly believed they just included mineral rights below the surface. Sparks says it’s important to note that easements are permanent, and can be interpreted differently in the future.
If Williams was to pursue eminent domain, it would go to first to circuit court, then the decision could be appealed to higher courts. A different company—Sunoco—just filed for eminent domain in Pennsylvania for another natural gas liquids pipeline, but it’s not clear yet whether the company will get it.