Landowner groups and energy companies couldn’t come to an agreement on proposed legislation governing pipelines and eminent domain, leaving the issue to be worked out another time.
State Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he tried — but failed — to broker an agreement that would balance private property rights and companies’ ability to efficiently and legally lay pipelines.
“Several of us having been trying to work toward some consensus on a comprise,” Duncan said in an interview this week. “We just didn’t get there.”
Gov. Rick Perry announcement Thursday that he wouldn’t add any more items to the Legislature’s special session agenda appeared to make it official.
State law says pipeline companies that are considered “common carriers” — ones that are available to carry more than one company’s product — are allowed to take private land though the eminent domain process.
Frustrated landowners have been complaining lately that it takes little more to be a common carrier than checking a box on a form at the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator. Now, the groups are saying that they need to protect their right to sue pipeline companies that dishonestly claimed common carrier status.
On the other side, pipeline and energy companies have been trying to head off a potential avalanche of lawsuits over challenges to common carrier designations. Theywant to limit lawsuits from being filed after six to 10 years following the installation of a pipeline.
The landowners — led by the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Land & Mineral Owners Association — said in a letter to Duncan that “no such immunity applies to any other property acquired by eminent domain” and it shouldn’t be applied in common carrier cases.
Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association, said he would continue to work with the everyone involved and added that “the members of our association have always followed the letter of the law when dealing with landowners.”
Duncan said it’s important to protect private property owners’ rights, but he added it’s also vital for the state’s economy to make sure the oil and gas business can continue operating at the current high level.
“What we don’t need in Texas is a lot of random litigation that basically will put uncertainly in the commerce issues involving the common carrier status of pipelines,” Duncan said.
Duncan said he hopes to revive the matter in the 2015 legislative session. In the meantime, however, the Railroad Commission could use its authority to make rules governing common carriers.