A classroom at the Kehoe Center in Shelby was filled to capacity Wednesday night as concerned landowners in the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline listened to lawyers from Goldman & Braunstein, LLP speak about the issues they faced.
The proposed pipeline, known as the Rover Pipeline, would run 800 miles from Southeastern Ohio to points in Michigan and Canada. Along the way the main line crosses Richland, Ashland, and Crawford counties. If approved, the pipeline is expected to be completed in 2017.
The size of this project is “unprecedented” for Ohio, said attorney Michael Braunstein speaking about the size of the pipeline that will run through these counties. The latest proposal put forth by ET Rover Pipeline Co, LLC, is for the main line to be comprised of twin 42-inch diameter pipelines.
At full capacity, it would deliver 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from natural gas fields in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to its distribution point in Defiance, Ohio. That's enough natural gas to heat 1,000 homes for one year.
Though the pipeline has not been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Braunstein had no doubt that it would.
ET Rover will need to negotiate easements from each landowner the pipeline passes through. An easement is not a purchase of the land but an agreement to its use that passes down through generations and with any transfer of ownership.
The agreement will consist of both a construction and a permanent easement. The construction easement is much wider than the permanent one, and usually ends once construction is finished. For the Rover Pipeline project the construction easement may be as wide as 150 feet while the permanent easement will be 60 feet.
Several members of the audience had already received offers from ET Rover for easements, and they all nodded when Braunstein said that the first offers made "would be laughable if they weren’t so insulting."
Mark and Stephanie Metzger of Shelby were one of those who had received offers. Wednesday's presentation was one of many they had attended in the past six months from lawyers looking to represent landowners in their negotiations with the pipeline company.
Mark Metzger, who farms with his father Ambrose Metzger just outside of Shelby, said his primary concern was receiving fair compensation for the trouble that’s sure to come but not necessarily evident at this time. His father shook his head at the idea that the pipeline company will put back the land the way it was. It will be years before the land fully recovers with a project this size, he said.
Attorney Bill Goldman told the audience, “Representation is an absolute necessity, and [this project] will be a major disruption.” Easements offered by oil and gas companies are well-crafted to protect their interests, he said but not the property owners. “Easements need to be property friendly, and they should include provisions for insurance, indemnification, notification, and reclamation among others.”
If property owners and ET Rover are unable to come to an agreement, the Natural Gas Act allows the pipeline company to exercise the right of eminent domain once the project is approved by FERC.
In speaking about that issue, Braunstein said that Ohio eminent domain law has some strong protections for landowners. The “just compensation” principle of eminent domain focuses not only on the land occupied by the easement but any property whose value has been lessened by the taking.
Before leaving, Mark Metzger spoke of the attachment farmers have for the land they work year after year. To see it ripped and torn up will be difficult. “It’s hard to put into words,” he said. It will be even harder to put a dollar value on it.
For more information on the Rover pipeline, read 25 Things to Consider Before Signing a Pipeline Easement, Oil & Gas Industry perspective on Eminent Domain in Ohio, ET Rover Pipeline web page, and Environmental perspective on proposed gas pipeline in New York.