Battle for Utopia Pipeline Proceeding in Harrison County

Photo  Provided
Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is seeking eminent domain to build the $500 million Utopia Pipeline, which will send           Marcellus and Utica shale ethane from Ohio to Michigan.

Photo Provided Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is seeking eminent domain to build the $500 million Utopia Pipeline, which will send Marcellus and Utica shale ethane from Ohio to Michigan.

CADIZ — Kinder Morgan officials said the hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits they filed against landowners in the path of the Utopia Pipeline are just part of the building process, but an attorney representing numerous property owners said the company is just trying to intimidate them into signing “lowball” contracts.

The Houston, Texas-based pipeline giant plans to have the $500 million Utopia Pipeline running by early 2018. The project will ship 75,000 barrels of Marcellus and Utica shale ethane from Harrison County for export to Canada along its 215-mile path each day. The ethane would then go onward to Corunna, Ontario, Canada for cracking.

Kinder Morgan Vice President Allen Fore said over 60 percent of the land required for Utopia has been secured through signed right-of-way agreements. However, he said the company has filed eminent domain lawsuits against numerous landowners.

“This is all part of the process. Some folks said they would not discuss this with us until there was some legal process involved,” Fore said. “A full-blown legal trial is the last step. While eminent domain is not a process we use often, it is one that is available to us in Ohio.”

Columbus, Ohio-based attorney Michael Braunstein disagrees, however. He said he represents more than 100 property owners who control about 30 miles of land in Utopia’s path.

“Kinder Morgan offered very lowball amounts: $10-$15 per linear foot. This would be a permanent right-of-way across your property, and all you are ever going to get is $10-$15 per linear foot?” he said.

“They are trying to intimidate people, and intimidate their attorneys,” Braunstein continued. “Many lawyers are afraid of litigation. We’re not.”

Eminent domain refers to the power of the federal, state, and local governments to take private property for public use.

Ohio Revised Code states a pipeline company can be considered a public utility when transporting natural gas or oil, but not for “raw natural gas liquids, or finished product natural gas liquids.”

Although this would seem to indicate Kinder Morgan would not have eminent domain authority for an ethane pipeline, the company believes it can exercise this via the “common carrier” clause. This stipulation would apply if another form of natural gas or oil flowed along the same line as the ethane, so company leaders said they are leaving 10 percent of the line open for this.

“I don’t believe that they are a common carrier,” Braunstein said. They say other people could use this pipeline beside the Nova Chemical Corp. They have not demonstrated that anyone has plans to or even could use the other 10 percent. Kinder Morgan is not a public utility.”

In the meantime, Fore said Kinder Morgan continues reaching agreements with other landowners.

“This is a process that we are continuing to work through. Each individual landowner has unique situations,” he said. “We have a very good track record. Our history will show that we have been fair to landowners. We want to have positive relationships with these landowners.”

Braunstein urges landowners to fight so they can get the most for their property because once the right-of-way agreement is signed, that’s it.

“It strikes me as fundamentally unfair that you have a Texas company coming to Ohio to export this material to Canada, all the while asking Ohio courts to give them eminent domain to do so,” Braunstein said. “Ohio gets some temporary jobs and a little bit of tax revenue. What else do we get?”