Showing Energy the Way

Pipelines can now share Texas highway right of way

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In the right of way industry, eminent domain is a fourletter word. Oil and gas companies will pay exorbitant amounts to avoid it and right of way agents only whisper it behind closed doors while land owners shout, “not on my property. ”If private property and the threat of eminent domain could be avoided everyone wins, right?

Placing a right of way within a state’s existing highway right of way sounds ideal but with every groundbreaking idea there is always a list of pros and cons that can challenge even the most ardent advocate and sway the most defiant. There are questions that need to be answered, studies that need to be done, potential cost and savings analysis. Who will build it? What will the diameter of the pipe need to be? Who will maintain the easement and at what expense? Who will be responsible for the utilities? Who gets paid and how much? What are the safety issues and how do we protect ourselves from potential hazards?

In Austin, on June 3, the state legislature passed a bill HB876-SB685, written by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, on to Gov. Perry for his approval after an overwhelming majority agreed that it would be a good idea. It outlined that the Texas State Highway system could allow subsurface access to a controlled access highway right of way.

This is the beginning of a new era in pipeline right of way. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the regulatory agency for the oil and gas industry in the state. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) regulates the states’ highways including FM (farm to market) and the easements that surround them.

There are several questions that will need to be answered as we wait for the final word from our governor. I will highlight some of those questions with some potential answers. The first question being, which pipeline company will be first to put their pipeline within the state’s easement? We all hope that it is done with a local company who employs local labor in order to continue the economic cushion we have had from the national economic downturn since the initial drilling of the Barnett Shale play. The answer to this question can be tied into the next.

Highway easements can vary in size from 50 feet to hundreds of feet, so where do you put the line and how many can be constructed and what diameter pipe should you use? Most average pipelines are 10 inches in diameter but if you get multiple lines tying

into one you will quickly get a back-up. A 20”-36” (inches) diameter pipe would allow more capacity for the natural gas to flow faster and thereby reducing the back-up flow issue. This would also allow more well connects from more than just one energy company. If the three or four major energy companies already drilling in the Barnett Shale joined together they could construct a 24-inch or 36-inch mainline to transport their gas collectively to market. This would control the number of pipelines inside the state highway right of way and prevent a deluge of companies who would want to construct their own pipelines.
Then there is the time factor. No one makes money if gas is still sitting in the ground. The gas needs to move from well to transport to the processing plants and eventually to the consumer. For a situation where a pipeline needs to be bored, it can take as long as 30-60 days just to get a permit from the Texas State Highway. In the case of a major line there would need to be studies done to determine existing utilities and the expense to relocate them, population studies to determine the best location for construction with the least potential for future road expansion in order to control future costs. Environmental impact studies, engineering and survey would need to be done. Risk factors would also need to be calculated as well as plans for the resolution of those risks.

One of the most important issues is the cost. The oil and gas companies already absorb the expenses in maintaining the easements they create. This could save the state millions on maintenance. The state would also collect for damages and any other applicable fees.

Although it is a state matter, the individual landowner who gets to preserve the continuity of their land will be happy.

Although, I do not consider myself an expert in pipeline construction as a part of my curriculum I do teach the necessary facts about construction as it pertains to right of way at the Barnett Shale Training Center in Fort Worth. I have been a right of way agent since 1981 and was one of the first agents actively working in the Barnett Shale. I look forward to the future in my industry and the challenges it will bring as we become more independent from other countries and explore our capacity to develop our own clean natural energy sources.

Don D. Valden is CEO of Texas Right of Way Associates Inc. (www.TexasRightofWay.com). He credits his wife, Marie Valden as the ghost writer of this column.