A fracker tried to pretend that their gas gathering system was a “utility” and get the power of eminent domain to condemn right of way. Silly fracker. This is the oldest trick in the fracking book – trying to get utility status for a private gathering / delivery system. Small operators try it, as do large operators – the Keystone XL Pipeline has been denied public utility status in Nebraska and Texas because it’s not a state regulated public utility.
Court Blocks Use of Eminent Domain on Pipeline
York County landowners affected by the same proposed Marcellus Shale pipeline that would run through Clay and West Cocalico townships in Lancaster County have won a court battle blocking Sunoco Logistics from condemning their land. In a March 25 ruling in York County Common Pleas Court, Judge Stephen Linebaugh reaffirmed his previous ruling that Sunoco was a pipeline carrier, and not a public utility, and therefore had no eminent domain powers.
Officials for Williams Partners, which wants to build a 35-mile Marcellus Shale natural gas line the length of Lancaster County, north to south, said Wednesday that the court case has no bearing on their project.
“It is not an apples to apples comparison. This decision does not apply…,” said Chris Stockton, spokesman for Tulsa-based Williams. Stockton said Williams is under the jurisdiction of the Natural Gas Act, not the Interstate Commerce Act like Sunoco, and would need to get its power of eminent domain if the project is approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Williams is still in the pre-filing stage with FERC for the Central Penn Line project. But with its Mariner East pipeline that would run from near Pittsburgh to Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia, Sunoco was already attempting to condemn property for the pipeline and compressor stations.
Landowners in 22 areas, including in York, Dauphin and Chester counties, have challenged the company’s use of eminent domain since it was not a public utility corporation.
In the first ruling to be handed down in those lawsuits, the York County judge agreed that Sunoco was a pipeline carrier under the Interstate Commerce Act and not a public utility.
“While public utilities may also be common carriers, the law provides only that those entities subject to regulation as a public utility can seek the power of eminent domain,” Linebaugh wrote.
Sunoco has since asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to expedite its request to be declared a public utility.
In York County’s Fairview Township, the owners of 25 properties challenged Sunoco’s claim to have public utility status.The ruling affects a couple, Ronald and Sallie Cox, who have refused to sell a right of way through a wooded area in front of their home.
Abigail Dindo in the office of Harrisburg attorney Michael Faherty, who represents 22 groups of landowners in the Sunoco cases, said none is from Lancaster County. The 300-mile Mariner East pipeline would deliver propane and ethane from Marcellus Shale areas in Western Pennsylvania to a new refinery. Most of the west-east project involves using existing buried pipeline that until recently carried gasoline. Sunoco has told officials in West Cocalico Township that they may locate a pumping station somewhere along the line there.