Harrisburg Eminent Domain Law Blog

Update on Pennsylvania's Pipeline Task Force

The Pipeline Task Force held its final meeting last week. With that completed, it is now anticipated that the Task Force's report will be delivered to Governor Wolf soon. That report is expected to consist of over 180 recommendations regarding how to prepare for and manage the impact of pipelines within Pennsylvania. It is believed that some of the Task Force's recommendations will include, among other things, increased training for state regulators and emergency responders, creating state level coordination and infrastructure systems and suggestions on how to minimize environmental impacts. Other areas likely to be addressed by the report include agriculture, conservation and natural resources, historical and cultural resources, public participation, and economic development. 

Impact of Pipelines on Property

As new and additional pipeline projects are undertaken in Pennsylvania, many property owners are being confronted with a situation with which they have little to no prior experience. This often takes the form of a pipeline company representative approaching the property owner seeking to purchase an easement across the property owner's land. During this process, the land agents will often claim that the pipeline will have no or only a minimal impact on the property and its value. We caution property owners to be wary of these statements and representations. Experience has reflected that pipelines can impact property values in a number of ways. One possible way is that a pipeline can lower the fair market value of a property. In some cases, the pipeline can have a significant impact on the property's value. Second, the pipeline can limit the property owner in utilizing the property in the future. By way of example, if the easement were to cut through the center of a vacant lot, it may render the lot no longer usable for development. In addition, if a pipeline runs through the center of a back yard, it may prevent the property owner from adding an addition to an existing residence and/or installing a pool. Third, pipelines can potentially limit the number of individuals who may be willing to purchase the property in the future. On this basis, we suggest that property owners carefully consider any offer which is made to them by a pipeline company before accepting the offer.

UGI Energy Seeks Expedited Approval of the Sunbury Pipeline

UGI Energy Service has requested expedited approval of the Sunbury Pipeline Project. Specifically, UGI has indicated that approval is needed prior to the end of the year to ensure timely completion of the project. This is allegedly due to environmental concerns such as the removal of trees and the possible impact on trout stocking and reproduction. This pipeline is expected to impact five (5) Pennsylvania counties including Montour, Lycoming, Union, Snyder and Northumberland. We will provide further updates as additional information becomes available to our office. 

What is an Additional Line Right?

There has been a significant amount of discussion lately about additional line rights, especially in conjunction with Sunoco's Mariner East II Project. A question many people are asking is "what is an additional line right" and what does it mean to me.

Lavery Law Attorneys present a seminar to property owners affected by pipelines

Attorneys Sunshine Thomas and Peter Carfley attended an October 20, 2015 meeting hosted by the Gas Awareness Drilling Coalition and presented a seminar to local property owners affected by the PennEast pipeline. The seminar was designed to inform property owners about the eminent domain process and about their rights and options in the process. The seminar also provided the landowners with helpful tips to keep in mind when contacted by the land agents.

Cumberland County Judge Rules that Sunoco is a Public Utility

Judge Edward Guido of the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania recently ruled against the preliminary objections which were filed by three land owners in Cumberland County challenging Sunoco's filing of condemnation proceedings to acquire easements across their properties for the Mariner East II Pipeline. Judge Guido determined that the proposed pipeline would provide propane, ethane and other products within Pennsylvania and, therefore, would provide "intrastate" service which is subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. As Judge Guido determined that Sunoco is a regulated entity, he further found that Sunoco is a public entity and therefore possesses the power of eminent domain. This Decision is subject to further appeal by the involved parties within thirty (30) days following the issuance of the Decision.

Developments with the PennEast Pipeline Project

Based upon information recently issued by PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC, it appears that the project is moving forward and that PennEast has or may soon start approaching property owners in an effort to secure the necessary easements for the project. The PennEast pipeline is reported to be slightly over 100 miles of 36 inch diameter pipe which will run from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey carrying natural gas. PennEast has indicated that pipeline construction would likely begin as soon as all required permits and approvals are secured from FERC with a targeted completion date in late 2017.  In light of this information, we expect that property owners in the impacted areas will likely soon start to receive communications from PennEast representatives, if they have not already. These initial contacts are usually either in the form of a home visit or a telephone call and are generally for the purpose of either securing an easement or taking the preliminary steps towards filing a condemnation proceeding.  

A New Lawsuit Has Been Filed Challenging Sunoco's Eminent Domain Power

A new lawsuit was filed last week in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas by the Clean Air Council and a number of residents of Delaware County claiming that Sunoco is not a public utility as it pertains to the Mariner East II pipeline and does not have the power of eminent domain. As of the date of this entry, Sunoco has not filed a formal response to the lawsuit. We will post further updates as additional information becomes known by our office.

What is a Pipeline Right-of-Way?

By definition, a pipeline right-of-way is a strip of land over and around a natural gas pipeline where some of the rights relative to the land have been granted to a pipeline operator. This is generally documented in a right-of-way agreement (also known as an easement) between the pipeline company and the property owner. The easement is usually filed in the County Registrar and Recorder's office along with the deed to the property. The easement gives the pipeline company an interest in the property although, depending on the type of easement, it may be permanent or temporary.

Recent Developments with Eminent Domain in Pennsylvania

As many may be aware, Governor Wolf established a pipeline infrastructure task force to assist in developing policies and guidelines regarding pipeline development and pipeline operation and maintenance in Pennsylvania. This task force was established to create a series of best practices in order to reduce the environmental and community impact, to engage in meaningful public participation, and to ensure pipeline safety and integrity. The members of the task force were recently selected and identified in July, 2015 with the task force having its first meeting on July 22, 2015. Based upon the information presently known, it appears that the task force is scheduled to conduct monthly meetings with a deadline to present their final report to Governor Wolf in February, 2016. As we learn further information about the task force and/or its efforts in this regard, we will post further updates. 

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