Consequences for Landowners

What Happens  if EQT/NextEra Gains Certification and You Find it Will Come Across Your Land

Bu Wil Stanton

First, landowners must endure the process of constructing the pipeline[1]

  • Ground Surveys. The process of conducting field surveys involves several steps. Generally, each property will be visited by various specialists in engineering, cultural and environmental sciences. These may or may not be concurrent visits but should not last longer than one or two days each. Survey crews typically move through a given area in about a week. Some properties may need to be revisited to obtain additional data, and you will be contacted if additional visits are necessary. Nothing will be removed from your property without your permission. Vehicular traffic will be confined to existing roads and access ways.  After the survey teams are finished, you may see survey stakes and/or ribbon tied to fences or vegetation.  These markers are necessary to maintain a line of sight for the areas that have been surveyed.  In areas where brush or tall grass is encountered, crews may need to cut some of this vegetation to maintain the line of sight. Some minor surface disturbance may be required with hand tools for cultural resource surveys. Our survey crews will take every precaution to ensure no damage to your property or disruption of your daily activities.
  • The civil survey (and any uncompleted environmental surveys) would be completed and the construction right-of-way would be marked/staked for the clearing crew. (the construction right-of-way can be between 150-200’)
  • The clearing crew would remove any trees or brush within the right-of-way that would interfere with construction.
  • Temporary erosion control devices would be installed as required.
  • Next, the right-of-way would be graded.
  • Topsoil would be separated from subsoil in agricultural/residential areas (or in other areas requested during the easement negotiations).
  • Heavy equipment, such as backhoes or trenching machines, would then dig the trench (which can be as deep as 6’ – 8’). In areas where bedrock is near the surface, blasting may be required.
  • The pipe would be delivered to the right-of-way in segments (called joints).
  • The pipe would be bent to fit the trench and welded together. All welds would be tested prior to placing the pipe in the trench.
  • The trench would be back filled and if topsoil was removed it would be returned.
  • Construction debris would be removed.
  • The right-of-way would be regraded, seeded, and temporary and permanent erosion control devices would be installed.
  • After the right-of-way has revegetated the temporary erosion control devices would be removed.
  • Prior to gas flowing, the pipeline would be pressure tested (normally with water) to ensure it does not leak.

Next comes the restrictions of use on the right-of-way going across a landowner’s property. We chose to use Spectra Energy (owner of the East Tennessee Pipeline in Montgomery County) and Williams Partners (owner of Transco, the country’s largest distributor natural gas) in listing easement restrictions.  They reflect the restrictions imposed by most pipeline companies.[2]

  • Land use: The land may be used for most residential, commercial, or agricultural purposes provided this usage does not interfere with the safe operation, maintenance, inspection, and repair of the pipeline or obstruct access to and along the right of way. All usage must have the written permission of the pipeline company.
  • Width of Right of Way: 75’ – ROW must remain open
  • Permanent structures cannot be placed on the right of way/easement because they obstruct access and impair the Company’s ability to safely operate and maintain the pipeline. These include: Buildings, Houses, Trailers, Mobile homes, Poles, Decks, Tool sheds, Trees, Shrubs, Garages, Swimming pools (neither above ground nor below ground), Septic tanks and leach fields (septic tank lines), or other structures that obstruct or impede access to the right of way.
  • Excavation is not allowed within the pipeline’s right of way without Company’s representative present. All excavation work within two feet of the pipeline must be performed by hand, directly over and under pipelines, with a Company representative present, who will determine the safe digging distance.
  • Temporary equipment crossings. To protect pipelines from external loading, Williams will perform an engineering evaluation to determine the effects of any proposed equipment use (e.g., farm equipment or you want to develop your land for commercial or residential use). Mats, timber bridges or other protective materials deemed necessary by the pipeline company will be placed over pipeline facilities for the duration of any loading. Protective materials will be purchased, placed and removed at no cost to the pipeline company, i.e., the landowner will have to bear the cost to gain access to his or her own land. The right of way must be restored to its original condition. Again suppose a landowner or as part of the Montgomery Economic and Future Land Use Plan needs access across the pipeline. A preliminary engineering review will be performed for all roads, streets, driveways, etc., proposed on the pipeline company’s right of way. A pipeline inspection prior to construction may be necessary. Driveways, highways, roads and streets crossing a pipeline facilities must cross at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. All crossings must be over straight pipe and at locations free of any crossovers. Parallel occupancy of the right of way is not permitted.
  • Disposal systems. Septic tanks, liquid disposal systems, and hazardous waste disposal systems are not allowed on the rights of way. This includes discharge from sewage disposal systems, the discharge of any hydrocarbon substance, the discharge or disposal of any regulated waste, or any other discharge that may prove damaging or corrosive to the pipeline.  So there goes your plans to develop your property.
  • Deep Plowing. Deep Plowing (>16”) is not permitted. We are not farmers, but we checked with the extension service and found tillage for corn is typically 5-8’ with 8’12” required for soils that are heavy textured, poorly drained, cold, or compacted by heavy equipment.
  • Landscaping in the vicinity of the pipeline is limited to lawn and low-growing (less than five feet tall at maturity), shallow-rooted shrubbery. Planting of shrubbery is not permitted closer than five feet on either side of each pipeline. Trees are not permitted.
  • Pipeline markers. Installation of pipeline markers is mandated by federal law to assist in identifying the location of pipeline facilities. Landowners should ensure that all temporary and permanent pipeline markers installed by the pipeline company are protected and maintained at all times during construction. Permanent markers damaged or removed by landowners will be replaced by the pipeline company at the landowner’s expense. Work will not be allowed to commence until sufficient pipeline markers are in place
  • Rights of way. Pipeline companies maintain clear pipeline rights of way to ensure that its operations remain as safe as possible. For regular maintenance or during emergency situations, the pipeline company must have unrestricted entry and access to all of its facilities at all times. A clear right of way provides easy identification and monitoring of pipeline facilities, which is imperative in preventing third-party damage. Pipeline personnel shall have access to the right-of-way 24 hours every day. Fences and gates across the pipeline impeding inspection are only permitted by permission of the pipeline company. Inspections may be by personnel walking the pipeline and/or by aircraft.
  • Fence posts shall not be installed within four feet of any pipeline. The pipeline company may require hand digging for fence posts installed within the pipeline’s right of way. Generally, fences must cross the pipeline at no less than a 30 degree angle. All fences require approval of the pipeline company.

[1] FERC Citizen’s Guide for An Interstate Natural Gas Facility on My Land, August 2013

[2] Stanton, conversation with operations manager at Spectra Energy related to the East Tennessee Pipeline coming through Montgomery County and Williams Partners, LLC, Landowner Information, Easement Restrictions )