What Is a Pipeline Right-of-Way?
A pipeline right-of-way is a strip of land over and around natural gas pipelines where some of the property owner’s legal rights have been granted to a pipeline operator. A right-of-way agreement between the pipeline company and the property owner is also called an easement and is usually filed in the county Register and Recorders Office with property deeds. Rights-of-way and easements provide a permanent, limited interest in the land that enables the pipeline company to install, operate, test, inspect, alter, repair, maintain, replace, and protect one or more pipelines within the designated easement. The agreement may vary the rights and widths of the right-of-way, but, generally, the pipeline company’s rights-of-way extend 25 feet from each side of a pipeline unless special conditions exist. These easements can be both permanent and temporary, with temporary easements granting the pipeline company additional space for construction.
Right of Condemnation or Eminent Domain:
In Pennsylvania, eminent domain or right of condemnation generally only applies to interstate transmission lines, or lines moving gas longer distances between two or more states. In other states the power of eminent domain may be given to all intrastate gathering and distribution pipeline companies under a ‘common carrier’ provision.
Individual gathering lines (pipelines running between well sites, compressor units, and metering stations) are not subject to eminent domain in Pennsylvania, and the pipeline operator must negotiate easements with each individual landowner along the pipeline route.
A provision in Pennsylvania law does allow operators of a “public utility” to use eminent domain to secure pipeline easements. In the event of an eminent domain proceeding, the landowner will be compensated by the court or regulatory authority at a fair market value for the easement.
Property Use Restrictions:
If you are negotiating a right-of-way easement on your property, you should be aware of the pipeline operator’s guidelines for property use and construction near natural gas pipelines and equipment. Generally, property owners are prohibited from installing any structures, storing anything that could be an obstruction, or planting trees or shrubs within the right-of-way. Unauthorized building or planting in the pipeline right-of-way is known as right-of-way encroachment. Normal gardening and agricultural activities are generally acceptable. However, you should never dig or construct anything within the easement without first having a pipeline representative mark the pipeline, stake the right-of-way, and explain the company’s construction guidelines. Activity on the pipeline easement can also create additional dangers if the pipeline trench has not been properly compacted, fully refilled, and depth of covering maintained at the required thickness.