Property rights group visits Sangudo

“David versus Goliath.” That’s how CAEPLA—the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations—characterizes the relationship between landowners and pipeline companies that want to build pipelines through their land.

The association, based in Regina, was in Sangudo earlier this month to talk about landowners’ rights and the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline project

“Landowners don’t really know what they should do to protect their rights and that’s the way the National Energy Board likes it,” CAEPLA CEO Dave Core said in a phone interview.

According to Core, the regulatory process overseen by the energy board (NEB) puts landowners at a disadvantage. Although pipeline companies negotiate with landowners for land-use rights before they start construction, the landowner doesn’t really have leverage to say no, Core said: if the landowner doesn’t like the offer, the company can apply to the NEB for a right-of-entry order.

Last year, Enbridge applied for right-of-entry to go ahead with its Cromer Line 3 replacement project in Manitoba, after failing to reach an agreement with landowners. The NEB granted numerous requests, despite the objections of farmers, who cited topsoil, land access and drainage issues among their concerns.

The NEB later halted the project, after an inspection in July found that Enbridge had failed to implement “multiple mitigation measures”—which the company had committed to in its Environmental Protection Plan—and this failure had resulted in “environmental damage to wetlands and property damage to a substantial amount of agricultural land,” according to the stop-work order issued by the NEB.

This, Core said, is a particularly egregious example of why CAEPLA exists.

“The only way that landowners can get proper easement agreements and proper compensation is by working together, because the law exists to compromise us,” he said.

When the association negotiates a contract, it wants to ensure that the pipeline won’t interfere with regular farming practices, Core said. That means, for example, pushing the company to put the pipeline five feet underground, so that farmers can cross over it without the potential for causing damage. Core says that this used to be recognized in easement agreements back in the ‘50s and ‘60s; however, as the pipelines aged, the NEB created new regulations requiring permission every time landowners cross pipelines on their property.

Under section 112 of the National Energy Board Act, it is illegal to “operate a vehicle or mobile equipment across a pipeline unless leave is first obtained from the company.” Violation can result in a fine of up to $1 million and up to five years in jail.

Core says these laws shift responsibility for old, corroding pipelines—some of which are, according to Core, only 11 inches underground—onto landowners.

“It’s cheaper and easier to restrict farmers and ranchers and landowners than it is to replace those pipelines,” he said.

CAEPLA is also pushing to have pipeline companies pay rent to landowners to offset negative effects of the pipelines on the value of the land. Although that may not have been an issue in the past, Core says that negative publicity from environmental groups and growing awarness about pipelines can push down the value of properties that have pipelines through them.

Core is quick to contrast CAEPLA with the environmentalist protest movement.

“We’re not anti-pipeline,” he said. “We just want safe pipelines that respect the environment, respect property rights, respect farming and agriculture and ranching.”

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