A Texas woman is fighting to stop a giant corporation from using eminent domain to seize a portion of her family farm for right of way for the massive Keystone XL pipeline. Like many rural residents, Julia Trigg Crawford is fighting to keep government and corporations from taking her property.
Her stance has ignited debate on both sides of the issue.
“When you allow a pipeline to cross your land, you give up certain rights to it,” Crawford told The New York Times. “You can’t use your land the way you want anymore. We didn’t want to do that.”
Crawford’s family farm in Lamar County, Texas, sits right in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will connect the tar sands oil project in Alberta with refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. Pipeline operator TransCanada has been trying to buy a right of way across Crawford’s farm since 2008 when it offered her $7,000. In 2011 that offer was raised to $21,626.
Crawford turned down that offer and tried to work out an agreement to lease land for the pipeline. TransCanada’s US subsidiary turned her down and started proceedings to seize the land through condemnation or eminent domain.
Fearing for Her Livelihood
Crawford has rejected the offers because she says the pipeline which will carry 590,000 barrels of diluted bitumen or dense crude oil mixed with liquid natural gas everyday – potentially, she says, leaking and polluting her property. She noted that the pipeline would run by Boise d’Arc Creek, which is the source of her irrigation water.
“What’s coming out of Alberta is corrosive, it’s the consistency of peanut butter, and it’s pumped at much higher pressures,” Crawford said of the oil in the pipeline. Her concerns grew after she discovered that her crop insurance would not cover damages caused by a leak in the pipeline.
“I called my farm insurance agent and asked what happens if there’s a spill, I can’t water my crops, and my corn dies,” Crawford told The New York Times. “He said my insurance won’t cover that. I’d have to sue TransCanada for damages.”
She also noted that TransCanada reported a large number of leaks with its first pipeline. Crawford believes the pipeline is a threat to her livelihood and she doesn’t want it on her property.
Corporations Can Use Eminent Domain To Seize Private Property
Unfortunately, Crawford cannot simply tell TransCanada “no” because of Texas state law. Legislation; written in 1917, gives corporations the right to use eminent domain to seize private property for pipelines.
The law allowed TransCanada to hold a condemnation hearing to which Crawford and her attorney were not invited. Instead, a district court judge condemned the property without any input from the landowner.
TransCanada has the right to use eminent domain in Texas because it filed an application with a state agency called the Texas Railroad Commission. The Commission ruled that the pipeline is being constructed for the “common good” which gives the company the right to condemn.
“The only way Texas law allows you access to a judge is if you appeal the condemnation,” Crawford’s lawyer, John Pieratt, told The Times.
In August an appeals court upheld TransCanada’s action. Crawford is now appealing that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
Fighting To The Bitter End
Crawford is not optimistic about her chances in court. She knows that Texas courts usually side with oil companies against the average landowner.
“We may lose the case …,” she said. “But I played basketball for A&M. I was raised to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to get your teeth kicked in. You go out there and fight.”
Despite the odds, Crawford remains defiant and she’s prepared to fight to the bitter end. She and fracking opponent Calvin Tillman have started a Crawford Family Defense Fund which is collecting donations through a website to fund the appeal. The fund has reportedly raised $100,000 in legal fees to pay for the fight.
Crawford has also joined with other activists and has even testified against the Keystone XL before Congress. Crawford is not alone. The Tea Party group We Texans told the Times that TransCanada has filed 89 eminent domain actions to get land for the pipeline.