Category Archives: Landowners

FERC should order Dominion to cancel all easements in Nelson County

Friends of Nelson continues the fight to convince FERC to order Dominion to cancel all easements in Nelson County and elsewhere on the proposed path of the now abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Although Dominion has abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and will never build it, they stubbornly refuses to cancel the easements that it acquired to build the Pipeline. These easements were obtained by suing landowners, with the blessing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) or by threatening to sue them in Federal Court. Since the Pipeline was cancelled 14 months ago, there is no justification for Dominion to keep the easements. The easements held by Dominion are a serious, continuing and completely unwarranted burden on as many as 200 easements in Nelson County.

 
 

FERC then decided to produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the Restoration Plan and assist the FERC Commissioners in deciding whether or not to issue an Order approving ACP’s plans.   They opened a “scoping period” to formally solicit comments from stakeholders that would help FERC do its environmental analysis.

 
As part of that Scoping Period, on April 15, 2021 we submitted our comments again.  
 
 

On July 23, 2021, FERC published published the Draft SEIS and basically said ‘not my department’  and they continue to duck the easement issue.  Friends of Nelson refuses to allow FERC to sit on the sidelines. 

On Monday, September 13, Friends of Nelson filed its third set of comments with FERC regarding these issues. 

In a summary of those comments, Friends of Nelson, argues that:

‘These comments present the Commission with a clear choice – that is, the Commission may act “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity” and order Atlantic to immediately release all easements that it obtained for the now-abandoned ACP if requested by the landowner.  In so doing, the Commission will end the serious burdens on private land that are imposed by these easements, easements that were obtained by Atlantic by legal force or coercion when the Commission issued the certificate of public necessity and convenience for the ACP (the “Certificate”). Or, the Commission may act “in the private interest” and “for the private convenience and necessity” of Atlantic and permit Atlantic to retain the temporary and permanent easements for many years to come and to extract further financial or other concessions from the affected property owners even though the sole reason for the easements to exist, and the sole “public interest” justification for the easements – the construction of the ACP – no longer exists. We submit that it is the Commission’s responsibility to act solely “in the public interest” and “for the public convenience and necessity,” and to reject Atlantic’s attempts to retain the easements “in its private interest.”’

Lawyers at the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Niskanen Center also
have submitted multiple comments on behalf of Friends of Nelson and others, pointing out that
Dominion refuses to deal with the issue of restoring landowners’ property rights.

Friends of Nelson will continue to press FERC at every point to require Dominion to cancel the easements, and leave our neighbors alone to enjoy their land unfettered by Dominion’s heavy-handed restrictions.

“Zombie Easements” story featured on NPR

It’s been just over a year since Dominion and its utility partners announced they were scrapping plans for a pipeline to carry natural gas from the fracking fields of West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. Opponents were thrilled, but the fight isn’t over yet.

Audio and written story by Sandy Hausman forRadio IQ. August 5th, 2021

1 year later… Let’s Celebrate the Cancellation of the ACP!

Please join us to celebrate our incredible Nelson Community and our incredible collective victory over the ACP project.

The focus of the event is on the fact that this was done by ALL of us, that ALL the contributions large and small added up to the outcome.

This is our chance to say thank you to each other and to honor the connections we’ve built over the last 6-7 years, as well as to set an intention for the connections and community spirit we built to continue into the future, even in the absence of a “common enemy” like the ACP.

The celebration will be from 5pm-9pm on Saturday, July 10th at the Rockfish Valley Community Center and will include libations, musical entertainment, guest speakers, and even a food truck.

Oil and Gas companies are making old pipelines the landowner’s problem.

From Popular Science. In the US private residents end up footing the bill to prevent further eyesores and pollution. March 10, 202. 

There are some 3 million miles of natural gas pipelines buried in the US. More than half of all gas transmission lines in the country were installed before 1970, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. Those pipelines have an average lifespan of 50 years. And it’s not just old pipelines that are set to go out of service. Younger pipelines are also at risk of falling into disuse as the power sector comes to rely less on natural gas in favor of wind, solar and batteries.


No clearer sign exists that that bridge has been crossed than the cancellation of several high profile natural gas pipeline projects in the last year, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Constitution Pipeline. What does that mean for the millions of miles of gas pipelines that are already in the ground?


The most comprehensive data on abandoned pipelines comes from Canada. In the 1980s, the Canadian government began an extensive study of abandoned pipelines, which identified a slew of serious risks to leaving them in place. Sinkholes could form as pipelines corroded and collapsed. Leftover fossil fuels, or the cleaning agents used to clear out lines, could leak out into the surrounding soil or water. Aging lines under lakes or rivers could carry water where it’s not wanted. Empty pipelines could also become slightly buoyant, relative to soil, and rise to the surface, where landscaping and signage marking a pipeline’s path is rarely maintained after it has been retired.


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can order a pipeline company to remove a line that’s not in use, says Carolyn Elefant, an energy and eminent domain attorney, but it doesn’t always do so.


Pipeline companies have ample incentive to leave pipelines in the ground. Removal is expensive and requires heavy equipment, permits and environmental reviews. And pipelines laid before 1980 often have the added feature of an asbestos coating that must be dealt with. It can cost almost as much to get a pipeline out of the ground as it costs to put it in the ground.

Friends of Nelson Asks FERC to Order Release of “Zombie” Pipeline” Easements

Friends of Nelson, a non-profit organization originally formed to oppose the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC to release private landowners from the easements it obtained to cross their land.

Friends of Nelson cites statements by Atlantic that it does not intend to voluntarily release the easements, and has not ruled out transferring the easements to another party, saying only “it has no plans to do so at this time.” “These easements represent a severe, continuing, and — in the wake of the project’s cancellation — a totally unwarranted burden on the properties along the Pipeline’s 604-mile route,” the comment letter to FERC says, adding, “With no ‘public use’ justification remaining, FERC must ensure that landowners’ full property rights are re-stored.”

The comment letter says Atlantic and FERC bear joint responsibility for the “zombie easements,” so-called because the easements live on even though the pipeline proposal is officially dead. FERC bears responsibility because it awarded the essential certificate of “public convenience and necessity” that opened the door to Atlantic’s use of eminent domain. Faced with powerful corporations with huge financial and legal resources, most landowners felt forced to grant easements rather than take their chances in court. Atlantic is owned by Dominion Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy Corporation, two mega-corporations.

“By remaining in place even after the cancellation of the project, these easements burden landowners’ ability to use or sell their property—and also their peace of mind, due to the threat that Atlantic could someday transfer the easements to the developer of another project” the comment to FERC states.

Friends of Nelson has researched the more than 250 easements and easement modification agreements that were filed at the Nelson County Courthouse between October 2015 and July 2020. “The owner is prohibited from doing many things within the Permanent Easement,
including, but not limited to erecting structures such as a house or barn, planting
trees and moving earth. These prohibitions continue forever, even though the pipeline will never be built,” the Friends of Nelson letter to FERC says, and it cites specific examples of Nelson County landowners’ agreements that constrain the use of their land.

The Friends of Nelson’s letter to FERC asks the agency to order Atlantic to contact all owners along the pipeline’s entire 604-mile route to inform them that Atlantic will release the right-of-way easement within 90 days of a written request from an affected landowner.

Friends of Nelson also wants FERC to order Atlantic to provide landowners with a written release of the easement, pay reasonable attorneys’ fees the landowners incur in negotiating the release of the right-of-way, and file the release in the land records of the appropriate jurisdiction.

Friends of Nelson’s request was filed on March 3. A full copy of the letter can be viewed here. 

FERC Provides “Additional Landowner Protections”

In a news release on June 9, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee announced an amendment to its regulations which says that even if a project has all other certifications and permissions to begin construction, it must wait to do so until the Commission either acts on the rehearing request or the 30-day time limit passes with no requests for rehearing.

When FERC issues a certificate of public convenience and necessity, allowing a project to proceed, affected landowners have the right to ask FERC to reconsider. Although FERC is supposed to respond to such requests within 30 days, it frequently issues a “tolling order,” which indefinitely extends FERC’s deadline to respond. FERC thus freezes the landowner’s request for a hearing while allowing pipeline companies to continue construction – meaning that by the time a landowner has a hearing the pipeline construction may be completed.

According to FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee, quoted in the press release, “‘The Commission has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve affected landowners’ access to a fair and transparent process and today’s effort is another important step forward,’ Chatterjee said. ‘These are complex issues, with a diverse array of stakeholder input, but I remain firmly committed to doing what we can to make the FERC process as fair, open, and transparent as possible for all those affected while the Commission thoroughly considers all issues.'”

However, FERC did not define what it meant by “begin construction,” and could still allow pipeline companies to condemn property before FERC makes a decision on a landowners appeal, and, depending on the definition of “begin construction,” go forward to cut down all the trees, dig the trench for the pipeline, spray herbicides, cross waterbodies – everything but actually put the pipe in the ground.

FERC has been under mounting pressure from landowner rights advocates and from Congress to address inequities in its hearing process for affected property owners.

Read FERC’s press release here.

Read press coverage in E&E Energywire here and in Utility Dive here.