Category Archives: Landowners

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.

FERC Process Skewed Against Landowners


On April 28, 2020, the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released preliminary investigative findings showing that the natural gas pipeline approval process used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unjustly tramples on the rights of private landowners.

The Subcommittee released a video report outlining its preliminary findings and interviewing landowners Richard Averitt and Maury Johnson, who have battled FERC and pipeline companies to protect their land, and Carolyn Elefant, a lawyer and expert in FERC issues.

In a press release, Subcommittee Chairman Jamie Raskin said, “The deck is totally stacked against landowners who want to defend their family’s land against takeover by private natural gas companies It’s not a fair process. FERC habitually delays its administrative duties to respond to landowner requests so long that those landowners have no opportunity to have their voices heard. By the time they have the chance to speak up, their land has already been invaded and in some cases destroyed.”

The press release states, “The Subcommittee’s investigation found that in the last twelve years, FERC issued a tolling order to every single landowner who requested a rehearing. In every single case, FERC eventually denied the request. On average, 212 days—about seven months—passed between the time a landowner made a request for rehearing and when FERC ultimately denied it. While those cases are tolled, the eminent domain cases can continue, landowners can lose their property rights, and pipeline companies can destroy their land.”

Read the full press release here.

Story Map on ACP Route in Nelson and Buckingham


Friends of Nelson is very pleased to share the Esri Story Map created by Karen Kasmauski of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

This International League of Conservation Photographers is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography and filmmaking. They had a small grant from BamaWorks to document the impacts that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have have on people and places, specifically in Nelson and Buckingham County.

Karen Kasmauski was the ILCP conservation fellow who came to Nelson and Buckingham for an initial reconnaissance/background tour in early September and then returned for more extensive photographing of multiple sites in early October. Friends of Nelson arranged for her to meet with some impacted landowners and see their lands and how the route would affect them. We also took her to visit local breweries and agribusinesses, explore wetlands that would be impacted, tour some of the steepest slope locations on the proposed route as well as some non-route areas that were devastated in Camille, accompany Friends of Nelson’s Doug Wellman for stream testing, observe how we/CSI use drones to monitor the route, and to come aboard and take a flight in the CSI/Pipeline Airforce plane to view the proposed impacts from the air.

In her essay accompanying the photos, Karen speaks of the people she met, saying, “Their stories also made me think about the larger picture of energy and why we continue building infrastructure like the ACP. Natural gas was supposed to be a bridge — a transitional energy source between coal and the increasingly affordable and popular renewables like solar and wind. Renewable success stories abound. Entire towns in Texas, one of the main fossil fuel states, are switching to more cost-effective wind power. While cleaner than coal, production and consumption of natural gas releases large quantities of methane, one of the main contributors to the warming of our planet. Why prolong our dependence on this energy source at the cost of alternatives that will serve us better in the long term? Is it appropriate to link these global concerns to this focused look at one portion of a regional pipeline project? Absolutely. The vast global picture of energy and environment are really comprised of thousands of local issues like those presented by the ACP. The concerns playing out in Nelson and Buckingham counties show us what could be lost should the ACP be allowed to go forward. A close look at the stories here mirror what is repeated in many ways and in many places on similar energy and environmental concerns.”

Karen Kasmauski’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Story Map is here.

Click here to view the full set of photos Karen took in Nelson and Buckingham Counties.

Report on Natural Gas Act Hearing


Fellow pipeline fighter Irene Leech attended the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Natural Gas Act hearing on February 5, 2020. With her permission, we are sharing her notes on her experience. Thank you, Irene!

I was at the hearing. I sent my comments to the record. My Montgomery Congressman, Morgan Griffith, is on the committee. He used his first 5 minutes to enter my statement into the record and to tell them I was there – affected by both pipelines. He told the industry that his constituents did not verify the good working relationship they claimed. He also told them FERC ignored the request by a group of Virginia federal elected officials for at least one more hearing. They also refused to consider the combined effect of the MVP and ACP. Griffith and Kaine have introduced similar bills that address a little of what we care about.

LaFleur did a masterful job of directly laying out the problems. She spoke only for herself. She was extremely tactful describing those opposed to her positions as genuinely viewing things differently but made clear change is needed.

Maury Johnson from WVA was invited and uninvited to speak as a landowner. There were three other affected landowners from the MVP there. I believe I was the only one from the ACP. Griffith clearly described my impact from the ACP. When Maury spoke to former chairman LaFleur she already knew we were there as landowners.

Griffith entered Karolyn Givens comments into the record with the second panel and asked the industry what can be done to incentivize industry to genuinely work with landowners – at my suggestion. The question was essentially ignored.

Hearing planners decided to displace landowners but we were there early to ensure seats (arriving around 7; at 9am we were told sitting in line outside the meeting room, not blocking any door, was considered protesting and we had to stand if we wanted to stay. They let us in at 9:50). We made sure the committee knew we were present. We shook our heads no when false things were said. We had scarves that said FERC doesn’t work but did not show them once the meeting was underway, being told that would get us thrown out – but folks saw them and pictures are on Facebook and Twitter. We also talked with staff after the hearing so we have their contact info and they have ours.

I think we made good use of our day. I did not widely share my comments but will get a copy to you. The ACP and MVP were referenced several times to point out problems with the Natural Gas Act.

We got things on the record – started the process to create change. I’m bummed we didn’t make the news – but they had a vaping hearing simultaneously along with a briefing on the coronavirus – plus State of the Union and impeachment.

P.S. Congressman Riggleman’s statement was announced as being put on the record but I have not seen/heard it.

[Note: Congressman Denver Riggleman’s statement is here.]