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Keystone Pipeline’s Latest Opponents: Texas Landowners

The Keystone pipeline is again under protest in Houston. This time, critics are challenging how the pipeline company is using "eminent domain" to buy property in order to run the pipeline across the state. It would bring crude oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.



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The Keystone XL pipeline would be built by Canadian company TransCanada.

The company has offices in downtown Houston and it was there out front on the sidewalk that Debra Medina said TransCanada was unfairly taking property from Texans.

“It’s not a government. It’s not the City of Houston or a county entity. It’s coming through 18 counties in Texas and using eminent domain to take property.”

Medina, who ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, is part of a coalition of property rights advocates and environmental groups opposing the Keystone project.  

Eminent domain is the term meaning the taking of land, most often by governments to build public projects like roads. But in Texas, the legislature grants the right to pipeline companies too.

The Keystone pipeline’s proposed route passes northeast of Dallas.

That’s where a member of the coalition, Julia Trigg Crawford, runs a family farm.

“They used eminent domain. They’ve condemned my land, it’s already condemned, it’s basically theirs, they want to start construction in two weeks.”

Crawford says she doesn’t want the pipeline because she believes it could threaten the wells they use to provide water for crops and cattle.

She says TransCanada is playing hard ball and that she has been forced to fight back.

“About 2 hours ago, my attorney filed a temporary restraining order against TransCanada in Lamar County. So that’s the big news right now.”

The coalition says TransCanada has filed over 80 eminent domain cases against landowners in 18 Texas counties.

A spokesperson for TransCanada told us the company does not like using eminent domain.

And while not disputing it has filed a number of such cases in Texas, TransCanada says it has reached agreements with over 1400 landowners, leaving less than 20 cases still in dispute. The company told us it pays “at least” the market value if not more for any land it takes.

TransCanada maintains that it has the right to use eminent domain because the pipeline benefits the public by providing such an essential resource.

The Keystone pipeline project was put on hold last month by the Obama administration which said it was withholding federal approval pending more environmental assessment.

That is a separate issue from the eminent domain controversy in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court is expected to reveal in coming days if it will rehear a case in which it gave more power to landowners to challenge pipeline companies in eminent domain disputes.