Citing concerns with the planned expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline and other pipelines across Texas, Debra Medina, the head of the advocacy group We Texans, is leading a coalition that is calling on state lawmakers to hold hearings on eminent domain and the impact that pipeline expansions have on water resources.
"I don’t think that any of us are saying that we have the solutions," Medina said Monday at a Capitol news conference. "What we are saying is the people need to talk about, have a greater understanding of it, and get some solutions to come out of that process."
By state law, companies like TransCanada, which owns the Keystone XL Pipeline, can claim eminent domain when a settlement is not reached to use private property if the pipeline is deemed a common carrier — a pipeline that transports the product of another company. Medina said she is concerned that state law makes it too easy for companies to acquire private land.
Medina added that the state should conduct interim studies on the pipeline expansions that would provide open discussion, transparency and regulation that all parties are comfortable with.
“If we are going to do this well, so it benefits all of Texas, we need to have public hearings, understand what the issues are and get good law as a result of that,” she said.
The Keystone XL Pipeline project will connect oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. A TransCanada spokesman has said the pipeline is in the public’s interest because the oil will help the United States meet its demand for energy.
While Medina wants such hearings to start immediately, she says that a special session wouldn't be the right venue because the issue of pipeline expansion wouldn't get the proper attention it deserves and that lawmakers do not yet have the information to make educated decisions.
“My concern is that a special session is 30 days,” she said. “If we didn’t get that done in the 140-day session, we’re not going to get it done in a 30-day session with other issues on the call.”
Medina was joined Monday by Julia Trigg Crawford, a Lamar County landowner appealing the construction of part of the Keystone XL Pipeline on her property through eminent domain laws. She said that after rejecting several offers of money to allow the pipeline to be built on her land, she finally agreed to a financial offer. But she says that by that time, eminent domain was already used to access her property.
"They are almost done with their pipeline across my land," said Crawford, who earlier went door to door with Medina to speak with legislators. "So I am here, as a landowner, living and breathing eminent domain abuse."
Also at Monday's news conference was former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and Linda Curtis, director of the advocacy group Independent Texans.
Martha Strawn, a Grimes County landowner who already has three pipelines that cross her property, initially agreed to a request for a fourth pipeline to be installed, as long as the company placed it on the western portion of her land.
But “they said that they are going to cut diagonally across our land, which would be devastating,” said Strawn, who attended the news conference. Despite her objections, the company is using eminent domain law to bypass her and continue with the project.
“We are fighting it and we need a group like this to bring everything together,” Strawn said in support of Medina and Crawford’s efforts.
Medina and Crawford also raised concerns about the effects of pipeline expansion on the state's limited water resources. They cited the March 29 rupture of the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark., which poured thousands of barrels of oil and contaminated natural water supplies. On June 13, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit again Exxon, the owner of the pipeline. Exxon has said it would work with any investigation of the accident.
The Keystone pipeline's route crosses Texas' Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, the water source for more than 10 million Texans, according to a release from Medina, Crawford and Hightower. They say that this aquifer and others like it must be protected from the hazards of equipment failures like the Pegasus incident, or else the ramifications could be disastrous.
The ultimate goal, according to Curtis, the director of Independent Texans, is "that we actually get some serious legislative reform on eminent domain and that there be a very, very serious look at what you have to do to protect water from those pipelines."