Analysis of the Supreme Court's last decisions of the term and the impact of a vacant seat on the bench.
Production of natural gas in this country has been soaring, but many of the pipelines needed to get this gas where it’s most needed have yet to be built. A recent industry- funded study estimates that more than 300,000 miles of new infrastructure including pipelines and other transmission lines are required. Although the federal government largely has the power through eminent domain to give companies the right to build pipelines across private property, some land owners are fighting back. Please join us to discuss the nation’s natural gas boom and the rights of private landowners.
- Carolyn Elefant attorney in private practice
- Jonathan Fahey national energy reporter, Associated Press
- Don Santa president and CEO,The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
- Michael Tidwell author of "Bayou Farewell" and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A growing number of private landowners living far from the booming natural gas production areas find themselves caught up in the debate. The industry estimates the U.S. will need to build 2,000 miles of new pipeline a year, much of it across private land to get the newly extracted natural gas to where it's most needed.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about new pipelines for natural gas, Don Santa of The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, Carolyn Elefant -- she is an attorney in private practice representing private landowners -- and, joining us from a studio at NPR in New York, Jonathan Fahey of the Associated Press. I do invite your questions and comments as always during this program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. CAROLYN ELEFANTThank you. It's nice to be here.
MR. DON SANTAThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all. Don Santa, I'll start with you. Tell us why natural gas pipelines are needed now and why it is -- it's so many additional miles are needed.
SANTAWell, Diane, the United States has got a remarkable natural gas transmission pipeline infrastructure. There are some 300,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines in the United States, and...
REHMAlready in existence?
SANTAAlready. And this network is the envy of the world. However, with the shale revolution, we're seeing gas being produced in locations and in volumes that we haven't seen before. So it's necessary to add to the pipeline infrastructure to link that supply with consuming markets.
REHMAnd I gather that is totally apart and aside from the oil pipelines that are needed.
SANTAThat is correct. The natural gas pipelines are dedicated solely to natural gas transportation, so our member's pipelines did not transport natural gas or -- excuse me, do not transport oil or refined product.
REHMCarolyn Elefant, in the past, pipelines were primarily built in remote or mostly undeveloped areas. What's happening now?
ELEFANTI think one of the changes, as Don mentioned, is there are new resources that are being developed in Marcellus Shale, Utica Shale, so those areas are a little bit closer to the East Coast and to population centers. I think also we are seeing perhaps some increased demand for gas. And as a result, pipelines are being located closer in to residential properties. I think there's also, in addition, companies are exploring different opportunities to transport gas or perhaps even looking towards export markets. And those export markets are adjacent to some of these areas that tend to be more developed and more populated.
REHMTell me about some clients you represent.
ELEFANTI represent a range of clients. And I want to specify that I focus primarily representing landowners who are directly impacted by the environmental safety and operational impacts of pipelines. So we're not -- my clients nor I are not necessarily opposed to development, per se. However, my clients are landowners who may be living adjacent to -- living on properties that have been sited for -- identified for pipeline development.
ELEFANTSo a pipeline may be slated to go through their property. Perhaps they are living in a community where a compressor station, which compresses natural gas along the pipeline infrastructure, will be located. And so they experience some of these direct impacts. And in most -- in many cases, I mean, of course, let's be honest.
ELEFANTNobody wants a pipeline or an additional encumbrance on their property. However, many of my clients are willing to be very reasonable. And when they realize that the pipeline is going to come through, they may request to have the pipeline run along the edge of their property instead of directly through their property, or perhaps see if there's an opportunity to downsize it or select an alternative route.
ELEFANTSo it's very rare for my clients to outright oppose an entire development. They tend to focus more on prudent siting alternatives and also opportunities for enhanced safety and perhaps opportunities to have a more comprehensive development to avoid sort of duplicative pipelines and impacting more landowners than necessary.
REHMWithout involving any private details, can you give us a specific example?
ELEFANTWell, currently, I get involved in cases at different stages. One of the cases I'm involved in is in Upstate New York, and it is a public case. This involves a compressor station that was part of a pipeline infrastructure, the Minisink case. And it was just argued at the D.C. Circuit. One of the issues in that case was there was an opportunity for the pipeline to just put the compressor station in a remote location, but that would have necessitated an upgrade to an existing pipeline that was already in a state of disrepair.
ELEFANTAnd the company had indicated in some early documents that it did, in fact, intend to upgrade that pipeline down the line. So my clients advocated for that option, the remote located compressor station and the upgraded pipeline. And the pipeline and FERC, by a 3-2 decision, approved a compressor station right in the middle of a residential community across the street from homes.
ELEFANTSo that was an example where, in my view, there was a prudence siting alternative that two FERC commissioners believed was the more appropriate alternative because it had fewer environmental impacts and that could have potentially been a win-win for everybody. And yet it was still rejected. So those are types of positions my clients take.
REHMJonathan Fahey, first of all, explain FERC and its authority in this whole arena.
MR. JONATHAN FAHEYSo the -- FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and it approves pipelines for natural gas and oil and also transmission for electric power. And it's a commission appointed by Washington. And their job is to look at price, reliability, and not necessarily environmental concerns when approving or not approving pipelines and other infrastructure that is under a different set of licenses from the EPA (unintelligible).
REHMI see. I see.
SANTAYou know, I'd take a little bit of issue with that.
REHMAll right, Don.
SANTAFirst of all, I am intimately familiar with FERC in that I served as a commissioner at the FERC in the 1990s.
SANTAAnd the commission does take into account environmental considerations. It's required under the National Environmental Policy Act to incorporate those in. Typically, when a FERC authorization, when the federal regulator approves a pipeline, it includes multiple conditions in terms of compliance with the various environmental and safety rules. In addition to that, a variety of other permits are required after the FERC approval is received. And also the commission, as part of that consideration, considers routing alternatives in which things like landowner concerns, environmental impacts, historic preservation, and other things are taken into account.
REHMAnd I know, Carolyn, you used to work at FERC as well. But the primary environmental decision is actually made by the EPA, is it not?
ELEFANTNo. That's actually not correct. Don't assessment is quite -- it is accurate. And even though we often disagree with the outcome, his description of the process is spot on. FERC has a certificate policy statement, and it examines several factors. First and foremost, it looks to see whether there's a need for the pipeline. I don't necessarily agree with the analysis. I don't think that it's sufficiently robust. But that's the first factor.
ELEFANTSecond, it examines whether existing or captive ratepayers are being required to subsidize the pipeline because the theory is that, if they don't receive benefits from the pipeline, they shouldn't be required to subsidize it. The third and fourth considerations are landowner impacts and environmental impacts. And traditionally environmental impacts are considered through the NEPA process. So, like any federal agency, FERC does consider all of those. I...
ELEFANTWe certainly can disagree over the, you know, the extent of to what -- which they're doing it.
ELEFANTBut it is considered.
REHMI'm glad to have that clarification. Jonathan, I gather that what's really exacerbating this whole process is the move away from coal-fired plants and the demand for more gas pipelines.
FAHEYThat's right, Diane. We're -- our energy system is changing. As Don mentioned, natural gas is being produced in places where it wasn't before. And so much of it is being produced and at such a reasonable cost that utilities are switching to use more natural gas. It's cleaner burning. And so, as utilities demand more gas, they need to get it to where their power plants are, so that is increasing demand.
FAHEYAnd there's also other demand centers that will probably pop up. Some definitely and others probably will pop up in the future as natural gas is used more for transportation perhaps and for exports, as Carolyn mentioned. And then because it's so much cheaper than heating oil, it'll probably be used more and more for heating homes, displacing heating oil, especially in the Northeast.
REHMWell, isn't that sort of what happened with New England last winter with those energy prices going up as far as supply and demand?
FAHEYThat's exactly right. During the Polar Vortex, the pipelines were full, and natural gas couldn't get to where it needed to get to as quickly as it needed to get there. Usually, natural gas in the past has been used to satisfy electricity demand. But when there is high electricity demand and high heating needs, there's a crunch.
REHMAll right. Jonathan Fahey, national energy reporter for the Associate Press. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the construction of gas pipelines across the country, the question of whose rights come first, whether it is the homeowner, the property owner, whether the gas companies do indeed have eminent domain or whether the government grants eminent domain. Don, if you would, explain what permissions a private company has to get in order to construct a pipeline where private ownership is concerned.
SANTAWell, first of all, Diane, during the period when the pipeline company is surveying the property and even before as it's selecting the route, the pipeline company may request access to a landowners property in order to do that. And that can be arrived at consensually. At that point the right of federal limited domain cannot be exercised. So if there's any eminent domain, it's going to be pursuant to state law.
SANTAIf a project is approved by the federal regulator and is found to be -- there's found to be a need for it, it's found to satisfy all the environmental conditions, there comes with that the ability to invoke the right of federal eminent domain. However, that's something that is done as a last resort. As a matter of fact, the regulator's policies, FERC's policies encourage pipelines to arrive at a consensual accommodation with landowners before attempting to invoke eminent domain. And that occurs only in a minority of cases where it actually does get to be taken to court to invoke that right.
REHMSo but, Carolyn, what are the rights of landowners once a pipeline is proposed across an individual's property?
ELEFANTWell, in terms of, first of all, the pipeline's ability to access the property to survey it, the law's different in various -- state to state. Some states do not allow pipelines to obtain pre-certificate survey rights. And so in those situations, a landowner can voluntarily agree to have the pipeline survey the property or not.
ELEFANTYes. And there are some states where pipelines do have the ability to take landowners to court. And pipelines don't always exercise that power. If they can survey enough properties and gather enough information, they won't necessarily try to pursue surveying a property that they can't access. But one of the things that I do find that is very confusing about the situation is there's often a good deal of misinformation that is put out there.
ELEFANTBecause these pipelines are huge projects, companies often hire contract -- agents that are hired under contract. And the agents have different levels of training. And often when they come to a property, they will say, can we survey the property? If you don't let us on now, we're just going to take the -- eminent domain will apply when this pipeline goes through, and the property is going to be acquired anyway. And so that creates a lot of confusion amongst landowners.
REHMAnd especially because the landowners don't understand their own rights.
ELEFANTExactly, exactly. And so because of that confusion, that ultimately lays a foundation. You're starting the process off with some degree of mistrust.
ELEFANTAnd I think that just by conveying accurate information -- and it can be complicated. Sometimes you have access rights, sometimes you don't. Explaining how the FERC process works, what you can do, what you can't, what approvals are needed can be very complex.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Shelby who says, "I thought I understood the theory of eminent domain was that the government could override individual property rights for the overall benefit of the population as a whole. But how would this reasoning apply for pipelines that will be used for the export of natural gas, something that would benefit only the owners of the gas? Pipelines restricted to domestic sales might apply but not for export." There is that division, isn't there, Don?
SANTAWell, Diane, yes. There are going to be natural gas exports however I think it's important to keep this in perspective. Looking at the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, their projections show that U.S. LNG exports will peak in about 2030 at 10 percent of total U.S. production. So even to that circumstance, 90 percent of this natural gas is going to be used to heat American homes, generate electricity in the United States and fuel the American economy.
SANTAAlso think about this in the context of other types of infrastructure. If we had a highway project and some portion of the commerce saw that highway project was going to be destined for export, would we deny eminent domain for that highway project? Would we do it for an airport? Would we do it for a seaport?
REHMOn the other hand, that highway or seaport would presumably be for the benefit of everyone. And in the case of export, we don't know about that.
SANTAWell, here's the point. I think if you look at the underlying law here, if you look at basically the constitutional basis for the federal approvals of this, there is a determination that there is a need for these facilities and that the public is benefitted by that determination of need. And also let's remember that these pipeline companies in return for that are subjecting themselves to regulation where their rates are being regulated, they're being regulated in terms of safety, environmental, subject to significant penalties if they violate those rules. So that's part of the balance and kind of the compact here that exists.
REHMCarolyn, in what parts of the country are homeowners or property owners resisting this kind of use of their land?
ELEFANTWell, I guess it varies. There are some pipelines where landowners adamantly refuse to the entire pipeline. In most situations -- I mean, there's some pipeline being built here in Maryland. There are pipelines in Pennsylvania, Georgia. And in many of these cases, landowners I wouldn't say are necessarily objecting as they are asking for information, asking, where is this pipeline going to be on my property?
ELEFANTIs this going to impact my well? If you come within 25 feet of my well, what are you going to do? In many cases, too, one of the issues with pipelines is the company is only -- it's only -- it's acquiring an easement which is a significant encumbrance, but it's not taking a whole piece of property as it might -- if you're building an airport, they might take your whole front yard.
REHMAre they being paid for that encumbrance?
ELEFANTSo landowners are paid, but they're paid a fraction of, you know, of the overall value as if it were a full ownership. But one of the issues is that because the pipeline continues operating on the property, landowners are also subject to certain restrictions. So, for example, if landowners have a farm, there may be certain types of equipment they can't put across the easement.
ELEFANTIf they have horses, there may be certain pasture areas where those horses can no longer graze. And in many cases, landowners are much more interested in what happens after in terms of how they can use the property than how much money they're going to get or, you know, whether the pipeline is, you know, going to have other larger impacts.
REHMAnd, Jonathan Fahey, what about pipe safety concerns? To what extent does that come into this discussion and concerns of property owners?
FAHEYIt's certainly part of it, and there have been some high profile safety accidents with natural gas generally with much, much older pipe. In general, looking across, you know, many years and high volumes of natural gas, they're relatively safe. The chance of a problem is very, very small. The worry for a landowner, I'm sure, is that, even if the chance is small, you know, the problem could be big. Now there are better and better technologies that can shut off the flow of gas upstream and downstream from any leak. It's getting better. There are better diagnostic problems, but of course you can't eliminate the risk.
REHMAnd how does the process for these pipelines for transmission of natural gas compare with the Keystone XL pipeline process, Jonathan?
FAHEYThe one big difference is that, because Keystone crosses an international boundary, the State Department is involved. And the State Department is not involved in most of these natural gas pipelines that we're talking about here. And then, from an environmental standpoint, there's some difference as well. The environmental profile of natural gas is much more benign than the environmental profile of tar sands oil. In many cases, natural gas is replacing a much dirtier fuel in coal ore.
REHMI see. But at the same time, Don, isn't there some push to export some of this natural gas?
SANTAYou're right. The export market is one of the markets for this domestic abundance that we have got. The U.S. Department of Energy, before it authorized any of the recent export applications, conducted a very expensive analysis and came to the conclusion that it was to the net benefit of the United States to have these exports.
SANTABut again, as I said earlier, let's keep this in perspective. Only a small percentage of the U.S. natural gas production is going to be exported. Looking at the Energy Information Administration at the peak in 2030 it's going to be 10 percent of the total. So 90 percent of that gas is going to go to heat U.S. homes, generate electricity here, fuel U.S. industry and produce U.S. jobs.
FAHEYDon, let me just interrupt there for a second. As you know...
FAHEYDiane, is that OK?
FAHEYAs you know, Don, there are a lot more natural gas export facilities in the permitting and planning stages. Now we all know they're not all going to get built but there's far more than 10 percent of U.S. production on the drawing board, at least at the moment.
ELEFANTYeah, and the other point I wanted to make in that regard is that, again, landowners are really at a disadvantage in the permitting process. They don't have access to pipelines future plans as to whether gas is going to be exported or not. I've been involved in cases where there has been infrastructure that's proposed that seems disproportionately large to the immediate need of a local utility. And when we try to get information to determine what other needs would be served, we weren't able to get that information.
ELEFANTNow the problem there is that when a pipeline uses the power of eminent domain to overbuild, that's an abusive use of the process. If it's using it for more than what's needed because of future planning, that's very problematic. And what seems to me to be happening is that, in anticipation of opportunities for exports, pipelines are putting infrastructure in and building out much more infrastructure than is needed to serve different and smaller pockets of need. So...
SANTACarolyn, I'd have to take issue with that. Pipelines don't overbuild. The basic economics of the business and also what's required to put before the federal regulator demonstrate need, that's most typically demonstrated by showing up with firm contracts, 10- to 15-year contracts for substantially all, if not all of the pipeline capacity. There are very few, if any, instances where an interstate pipeline builds capacity on speculation both due to the economics of the business and also due to the regulatory process. So I think that the notion that pipelines are building on speculation or overbuilding the infrastructure, the practice just doesn't bear that out.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Carolyn, do you want to respond?
ELEFANTYes. I was going to say, these precedent agreements that are filed at FERC are proprietary. Landowners aren't able to review the terms of those contracts which may often have out clauses maybe for limited periods of time. And so there's no opportunity to take a look at these agreements that are supposedly backing up the need for the pipeline.
REHMAs far as you know, do these gas pipeline companies have the right to contract by saying it's for domestic use, and then simply change their minds and go for exports?
ELEFANTWell, I think business plans can always change, and I don't necessarily think they're entering into these agreements as, you know, that time of a sham arrangement. But I think that, until my clients have access to those precedent agreements and can see precisely the amounts of gas that they are put in place for and also whether they have outs, we wouldn't be able to comment more on them.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Mike Tidwell. Mike is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Good morning to you, Mike.
MR. MICHAEL TIDWELLGood morning, Diane.
REHMI know you're been actively protesting the FERC's possible approval of a facility in Maryland called Cove Point. Tell us what that plan is and why you object.
TIDWELLYeah, well, I think that one thing that's important for your listeners to know is just the larger context of just the scale of this natural gas plan that the gas industry has for America. It is a really big build out that they're talking about. And, for example, in Pennsylvania, there are about 8,000 fracking wells in that state right now. The gas industry wants to get to 100,000 wells in Pennsylvania alone by the end of the decade. How are they going to do that? A big part of the strategy is to export this gas.
TIDWELLMany of the pipelines that you're discussing this morning on your show are actually related to a place called Cove Point, a proposed facility on the Chesapeake Bay, 50 miles from the White House that would liquefy 770 million cubic feet of fracked natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region, Pennsylvania, potentially western Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and then ship it to Asia.
TIDWELLOne of your guests had said that this is cleaner than coal. It's a cleaner burning fuel. Well, the U.S. Department of Energy just in May said that, actually, if you liquefy it and send it to Asia and light in on fire there, it's worse than coal over the next few decades. And then in terms of is it good for our economy, the U.S. Department of Energy last year did a study showing that actually it's going to cause gas prices to go up in America by about 27 percent.
TIDWELLIt'll be more international demand for our limited supply and that everybody in America, according to the U.S. D.O.E, is harmed by these exports and rising prices. Farmers, manufacturers are opposed to this. Energy intensive services, everybody in America is harmed, except for one industry, the gas industry. Cove Point is part of that plan, export it to Asia.
REHMDon, do you want to respond?
SANTAWe clearly have an abundance of natural gas. If anything, the issue we have in the United States is creating enough demand for it. But if we attempt to artificially limit that demand by restricting exports, we're probably going to restrict the incentive to develop that supply. Also as I noted, the D.O.E, the U.S. Department of Energy in looking at this found that it would be an economic benefit to the United States to export. In addition, we have the geopolitical consequences of it in terms of being able to supply our friends and allies with this important fuel.
REHMAll right. Don Santa, he's president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls and emails. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we talk about the building of pipelines, the transport of natural gas, both within the country as well as the exporting, here in the studio, Don Santa, he's president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and Carolyn Elefant, she's an attorney in private practice. On the line with us from NPR in New York, Jonathan Fahey. He's a national energy reporter for the Associated Press. And on the line with us is Michael Tidwell. He's the author of "Bayou Farewell" and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action network. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Melinda, in Lancaster, Penn. You're on the air.
MELINDAHello. Thank you for taking my call.
MELINDAI live in Lancaster County, and I have -- most of my life -- traveled all around the country. I came back to Lancaster because of the community here. We're known all over the world as a place of community, of farmers, of agriculture and our nature preserves. I got a knock on the door in March that someone wanted to survey our property, that this proposed pipeline was coming through Lancaster County. It has turned my world upside down.
MELINDAThere is this Goliath pushing to use my property for their gain, and there's hardly anything I can do about it. I feel like I've put my life on hold to try and stop this not only for my land, but for my community. Our communities are tight. I've walked the line in Lancaster County. There is no one along the line that I have yet met who is a landowner who is in favor of this pipeline coming through.
MELINDAFarmers are concerned about their ability to farm on top of the land or to build or subdivide for their family members, which is what holds our community together. And the more research I've done on this line, which is the Atlantic Sunrise Project, the -- 40 percent of it so far has been sold to be exported. And I really -- I love paying taxes. I believe in supporting each other's community as a nation. I think it's my responsibility. This is not for public gain. This is public risk for private gain.
REHMAll right. And, Carolyn, do you want to comment?
ELEFANTWell, I think these are definitely the types of concerns that I'm seeing in cases that I didn't see five years ago. There are things -- there are some things that landowners can do, but it is very difficult to come up with the resources to hire -- to put on the type of case that you would need to be able to question the proposal. There, you know, you can hire expert witnesses who can evaluate agreements, if you can get access to them, and make determinations about whether this particular planned pipeline is going to be used for domestic use or export. But that can -- that's something that can be very costly.
TIDWELLThis is -- if I could jump in.
TIDWELLIt's Mike Tidwell.
TIDWELLYour guest, Don, keeps emphasizing that the U.S. Department of Energy determined that it was in the net economic benefit of the country to export gas. And that word, keyword, is net. What the Department of Energy found was everybody is harmed by these gas exports, including your caller who's just called in. A pipeline through her property, much of that gas is for export to Asia. She's harmed by it. The Department of Energy says farmers are going to be harmed by gas exports, manufacturers, energy intensive services, wage earners…
REHMAll right. I do want to let Don himself respond.
SANTAWell, let me respond first on the landowner…
SANTA…the call that we're dealing with here. We realize and INGAA's members, the Interstate Pipeline companies recognize this is about people. We recognize that, as Carolyn said, this is something that probably catches people off balance. They're not familiar with it. It deals with their property -- probably the biggest investment that they have got.
SANTAAnd it's one of the reasons why back in 2008 INGAA's board of directors adopted a landowner bill of rights -- which is posted on our INGAA website -- in terms of the courtesies and our obligation to landowners. And if in certain instances, we're not living up to that, well, then let us know about it, and we'll see that it gets fixed.
REHMIt sounds as though, Melinda, you feel as though you have let them know, and not much has been done.
MELINDAI think that's part of it. And I know that the man's saying, we care about what the landowners feel, and yet you'll use our property against our will. And it's obviously -- the greatest benefit goes to you, the gas company owners.
REHMHow can it be that the gas company can move in unless the U.S. government has said the right of eminent domain is with the gas company?
SANTAWell, I think the distinction we're dealing with here, Diane, are the surveys that the pipeline companies will do during the time that they're contemplating the project, during the time that they're looking at rooting alternatives. As I said earlier, during that period the right -- the federal right of eminent domain does not exist because FERC has not made its determination. And that that instance, as Carolyn said, it is either consensual or pursuant to state law that they get access to that property to do their surveys.
SANTABut let me make the point that a lot of this work that goes on in the pre-application stage is intended to engage with the public and vet these issues and try to pick the route that is going to be least obtrusive, the best balance and recognizing you've got competing interests here. You've got environmental, you've got endangered species, historic preservation, how does it affect -- if you don't build it here and affect this landowner, it's going to be there and affect that landowner?
REHMAll right. Well, Melinda has her own property. Melinda, what steps have you taken to try to deal with this in a way that's satisfactory to you?
MELINDAI started doing my own research. I've held community meetings where we've had over 300 people come out. I've been traveling along our county in different townships during these meetings, talking to supervisors. And we're beginning to try and organize and make -- as a community and make some community rights that are going to make it difficult -- if we can -- and if it gets caught up in courts. We're working with CELDF right now to try -- the Community Legal Defense Fund -- to try and stop this pipeline from going in in our county, period.
MELINDAWe don't want it as a county.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. And let's go now to Fannie in Oklahoma City. Hi. You're on the air.
FANNIEThank you, Diane. I'm a 65-year-old retired school teacher, a fourth-generation Oklahoman. And the fracking has just absolutely destroyed our state. We are a sacrifice zone. All my life I had planned to buy a farm when I retired from teaching. And I can't find anywhere in Oklahoma that I think is safe to buy a farm. There were 10 earthquakes in the United States yesterday, and nine of them were in Oklahoma. And we never had earthquakes before the fracking. They have utterly destroyed our state, and it's -- I mean, why I'm talking about this is because it's all connected with the gas.
REHMOf course. Jonathan Fahey, has any relationship yet been officially established between earthquakes and fracking?
FAHEYYou know, in a roundabout way, yes. It is -- it seems to be that not necessarily the fracking process itself, but the wastewater from the fracking process all gets put -- from hundreds of wells, generally gets put into one single well, as a disposal well. So it's not fracking this well causes an earthquake or fracking that well causes an earthquake.
FAHEYIt's that the wastewater from lots of wells that then get injected into these injection disposal wells, can pressure the rock deep underground and cause some small tremors, as far as scientists knows. It's very difficult to pinpoint exactly, but that seems to be what's happening.
REHMAll right. And to you, Mike Tidwell. What's the timing on the possible Cove Point approval?
TIDWELLWell, the final decision now lies with FERC. And it looks like they may make a decision sometime this fall. I think it's important to stress that, as Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski has told activists here in Maryland, that the federal government creates commissions to be independent and make tough decisions but not to be isolated from the public. And in her view, FERC is isolated from the public. I think that's what you're hearing from some of your callers.
TIDWELLAnd certainly a lot of people in Maryland who are trying to stop this export facility because they don't want the pipelines, they don't want the compressor stations, they don't want the $3.8 billion facility in southern Maryland to liquefy the gas. You're talking about one of the largest capital projects ever in the state, which itself will become the third-largest source of global warming in Maryland, just to liquefy the gas and then ship it to Asia. And I think that's why you're seeing this as part of the tar sands resistance, the Keystone XL resistance. The resistance to gas exports is becoming…
TIDWELL…part of the fossil fuel resistance. And people…
TIDWELL…can learn more at StopCovePoint.org.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Jamie in Emporia, Va. Hi. You're on the air.
JAMIEThank you so much for taking my call.
JAMIEAs a landowner who was notified by Dominion Resources in May of this year, that our family tree farm is right smack in the middle of where they want to put their pipeline, Don's comments I disagree with. The power company has told us they have the right of eminent domain. They can take a 75-foot right away across the middle of our farm. We can no longer plant trees on it, which is what we do to make revenue to pay the taxes.
JAMIEA pipeline is going to be there for, you know, foreseeable generations. It's not going to come back up. Carolyn is spot on in what she says about how the landowners feel. Somebody has to have this. We understand that. But there is no give in the power company. They will not -- we said, well, could you come through the end of our family farm, where you would not disrupt the use of it as much?
JAMIEIf somebody must have it, we will do our civic duty and accept it. But do we have any say? No, you do not. Eminent domain allows us to do anything we wish to with your land. Our family attorney says they're right. There's nothing we can do.
ELEFANTYeah, this is the thing that I find the most troubling and frustrating because I have clients currently who have a pipeline going through the center of their property when it could have been moved -- or at least it appears to be able to have been moved two feet to the road. My clients would have put up a fence. They would have never thought about it again.
ELEFANTMany times my -- I have long taken the position that when pipelines ask to survey the property -- unless you're philosophically opposed to the development -- that you give them one chance to come on the property, do the survey, share the results of the information they find and point out critical features of the property that you want avoided. In some situations that does work. The pipeline will try to accommodate the landowner.
ELEFANTBut what I'm seeing increasingly at this time is one land agent will come out to the property, say, we'll take care of this, then a new land agent will be assigned and another land agent. There's no continuity. And these landowner concerns aren't taken into account. And, again, they feel like they've gone this extra step, they've allowed somebody to come and survey, they've tried to work with the company, and then to have those requests go ignored, it just -- it really makes for a very contentious proceeding. And it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
REHMDon, how do you respond?
SANTAWell, I can't speak to the specifics of the caller's question, in terms of what has happened in her instance. To the extent that the company was saying from the outset eminent domain, perhaps was pursuant to state law, which could have been the case with Dominion. I think that, you know, we want to do better. It's one of the reasons why, as I noted before, the INGAA board adopted the landowner bill of rights. One of the things that is in there is a commitment to provide landowners with a single point of contact with the pipeline company.
SANTASo it's something that we're striving for. To the extent that we're not doing it, let us know about it so that we can fix that. But that's one of the things that we recognized back in 2008 when we did the landowner bill of rights, that that's something that was the right thing to do for landowners.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to -- let's see. Gosh, if I can get this work. Let's go to Seth in Boston, Mass. You're on the air. Hi, Seth.
REHMGo right ahead.
SETHAnd hello to Don and Carolyn and to Mike. Yeah, I'm at the Conservation Law Foundation. And actually we've been dealing with these pipeline issues throughout New England. And one thing that has been missed in this conversation so far is the possibility that it is possible to increase the use of the current system through more efficient markets, through incremental upgrades. And one thing that Mike alluded to, but didn't address directly, is the interaction with the question of global warming.
SETHWe're talking about pipelines here that have affected lives of 100 years. And we are talking about a fuel, natural gas, that in order to be able to meet our climate goals, we need to be off of around 2050 and 2060. And when you do that math, it's kind of nuts to be building significant amounts of very large pipelines, you know. It takes a few years to develop these things -- and around 2017 or 2018.
TIDWELLWell, there's no doubt that the more we learn about the global warming pollution connected to fracked gas and the piping of it, the worse the news becomes. Again, the U.S. Department of Energy, just in May, under pressure from EPA and activists across the country and environmental groups, finally did their own calculations on this gas use and found that the worse thing you could with shale gas in the Eastern United States is to liquefy it, send it to Asia for energy.
TIDWELLThat was actually worse than coal. But you also have the leakage domestically. There's a very strong possibility that just using it domestically, there's so much leakage from the pipelines and the compressor stations and the drilling itself vents tons of methane into the atmosphere, that it's worse than coal.
TIDWELLThe bottom line, as Seth is alluding to, we have to figure out a way in this country to keep the lights on without setting things on fire, without burning oil, coal or natural gas. And investing in this massive infrastructure of pipelines and compressor stations and export terminals all over our coastlines is a massive misallocation of resources…
REHMAll right. I want to give Don the last word here.
SANTAGreat. Thank you, Diane. Let me respond to a few of the points that Seth and Mike raised. First of all, on the GHG issue, greenhouse gasses, let's put this into context. U.S. right now is at a low point in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for the last 20 years. And a lot of that is because of the substitution of natural gas for dirtier fuels. Also, in terms of the methane emissions issue, if you look at the EPA greenhouse gas inventory, we're seeing a downward trend in terms of emissions from the natural gas industry.
SANTAAnd looking at the pipeline specifically, if you look at leaks from natural gas transmission pipelines, based on the Department of Transportation statistics, they are 94 percent lower than they were three decades ago. And we're taking other steps to address it.
SANTASo it's not a show stopper.
REHMWe'll have to leave it at that. Clearly, this discussion is going to continue. I want to thank all of you, Don Santa, Jonathan Fahey, Carolyn Elefant, and Mike Tidwell. We shall be hearing more, doing more on this subject. Thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Timothy Olmstead. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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