Judge Says Gas Pipeline Firm Should Not be Granted Public Utility Status, Power to Seize Land

Property owners along 24-mile pipeline may be spared eminent domain fight


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235

An administrative law judge has recommended that Laser Northeast Gathering Company—a gas pipeline company seeking to operate in northeast Pennsylvania—be denied a Certificate of Public Convenience. The Certificate would have granted the company eminent domain powers, allowing the company to force landowners to sell rights-of-way for pipelines through their property.

This is the first time a company building gathering lines—which take gas from wells to larger transmission lines—has sought public utility status in the development of the region’s Marcellus Shale deposit.

The pipeline would be the first part of an extensive system linking potentially hundreds of gas wells in Susquehanna County, PA, to the interstate Millennium Pipeline in Broome County, New York. The company’s request comes as the region grapples with an explosive rate of gas drilling and an outbreak of industrial accidents and pollution related to rushed and irresponsible development.

Earthjustice and attorney Scott J. Rubin represented a concerned resident who has protested the application, to ensure that the company did not get eminent domain power, unless it came with protections for public safety, health, and the environment.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will make a final decision on Laser Northeast’s application after the parties have had an opportunity to respond to the judge’s recommendations, most likely early next year.

The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg:

“This bodes well for Pennsylvanians, who have been grappling with a lot of changes to their state in recent years. The number of Marcellus wells drilled in the first 10 months of this year is six times what it was during all of 2008, and pipeline construction is now beginning to catch up. Pennsylvania’s landowners should not be forced to give up control over their land to pipeline companies if state regulatory agencies will not guarantee protection of public safety, community health, and the natural environment. If the Public Utility Commission cannot provide those protections, landowners must have the power to protect themselves.”

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