Monday, April 3, 2017

Judge orders removal of gas pipeline on Indian land in Oklahoma

Some more good news for a change


In another marginal victory for property rights, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, recently ordered energy company Enable Midstream Partners to remove their gas pipeline from a 137 acre Indian allotment after it failed to get consent for an easement and failed to compensate the landowners for 17 years. The 38 plaintiffs from the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache tribes unanimously agreed to a 20 year easement for the pipeline back in 1980 and were compensated $1,925 for the loss of a 3/4 acre portion of their land. When the easement expired in 2000, Enogex offered the plaintiffs $3,080 to renew the easement, but the majority of the landowners rejected this offer because the amount was below the market value of their land. Enogex continued to operate the pipeline without their consent for several years until it handed operations over to Enable Midstream Partners. The BIA, who are supposed to look out for the best interests of the landowners, further undermined their property rights by initially accepting a $1,100 payment on behalf of the Indian owners to cover Enogex's continued use of the land from 2000 until 2002. The BIA continued to accept fee payments from Enogex from 2002 until 2006 and at one point attempted to approve a new easement despite the landowners objections. The Amerindian landowners never saw a penny of the initial $1,100 payment to the BIA or any of the subsequent fee payments that Enogex paid to the BIA. However, the BIA eventually complied with their wishes and advised the company to cease use of the pipeline in March 2010. The 38 Indian allotment owners plant to return to court to file a lawsuit against Enable Midstream Partners for damages to their property.

District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a 10 page decision on Tuesday that details the facts of the case and orders Enable Midstream Partners to remove the pipeline. In her decision LaGrange wrote:

Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, and in light of the facts and circumstances in this case, the court finds that a permanent injunction should be entered in this case," the decision stated. "Specifically, it is plaintiffs’ interests in the exclusive possession of their land which has been invaded by the presence of the pipeline and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline.

Further, defendants have continued to use the pipeline and although they were advised by the BIA on March 23, 2010, more than five and a half years before the instant action was filed.The court finds defendants’ continuing trespass on plaintiffs’ property is clearly not unintentional.

Energy companies have become one of the biggest enemies of property rights in recent years. In light of the eminent domain abuse they have perpetrated through the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Keystone XL pipeline, and similar infrastructure projects, this could be a hopeful sign that may set a precedent for further protection of property rights against the right-of-way claims of private corporations.

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