CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Huge pipelines intended to carry Marcellus and Utica natural gas to eastern markets are running into spreading resistance from landowners.
Richmond-based Dominion Resources and its partners have filed about 100 lawsuits against landowners who are resisting surveying crews for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Now landowners in the path of a different pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, have filed preemptive suits to stop surveying crews hired by the Pittsburgh-based EQT energy company and its partners.
Isak Howell is an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, a non-profit organization that represents dozens of landowners along each line.
“These companies are proposing to use the right of eminent domain -– the extraordinary power to take private property against the landowners’ wishes – and it should not be granted lightly,” Howell states.
Each pipeline would cost billions of dollars, run for hundreds of miles and carry billions of cubic feet of gas a day. They are designed to carry Marcellus and Utica natural gas to North Carolina and Virginia, with other connections.
Both projects would go through rugged, hard-to-build-in terrain. The companies argue the projects would put people to work and would lower gas prices, which they maintain would be good for the economy.
Howell says the landowners don’t expect to see any benefit in their region, just the negative impact on land and water.
“They’re definitely going to have a huge environmental impact out on the land,” he stresses. “The companies should be held to the letter of the environmental laws before these pipelines are ever approved.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will determine much of the future of both projects. Both cross national forests, which complicates the picture. And the landowner lawsuits in state courts will also need to be addressed.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed suit on behalf of three families in Summers and Monroe counties. Howell says their cases turn on the interpretation of a law that’s more than a century old.
He says it states a company can use eminent domain for a public use. But he says the gas won’t be used in West Virginia, which leaves open the question of whether it qualifies.
“There’s not a definitive case answering this question that I’ve been able to find, and so, possibly very soon, it’s going to be up to a West Virginia court to decide whether that bar is as high as we think it is,” he explains.