Shale Property Rights

Sabal Trail Pipeline – Spectra Energy’s Proposed Gas Transmission

Pipeline Draws Citizen Opposition in 3 States:

Georgia, Florida, Alabama

Spectra Energy Builds on its Reputation for

Cynical Social Responsibility

Citizens protest Sabal Trail pipeline in Valdosta, Georgia, at County Commissioners meeting. Photo courtesy Matthew Woody, The Valdosta Daily Times.

Spectra Energy (NYSE: SE), the $5 billion pipeline and underground natural gas storage company, is now in a position where its reputation precedes it.  When it holds community meetings to sell a proposed natural gas transmission pipeline, communities show up with pitchforks, figuratively speaking.

Despite airy promises about “stakeholder engagement” and commitment to “transparency and accountability,” word about Spectra Energy’s lack of responsiveness and ongoing problems at existing facilities is spreading to communities across states where it hopes to build more pipelines and compressor facilities.1, 2

For example, the Sabal Trail pipeline is a proposed 474-mile natural gas transmission pipeline Spectra Energy hopes to build through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.  Current plans call for 7 large compressor stations along the pipeline route (to ‘push’ the gas through).

Lessons from New York

Spectra Energy’s track record leaves a negative brand image across many states and in Canada.3

In New York, for example, based on experience with a Spectra Energy pipeline, Clare Donohue, a founding member of the Sane Energy Project, told this writer (emphasis added): Click here to read about Property Rights Emerge as Growing Issue;

“It’s apparent that Spectra is enlarging and adding to their east coast network from south to north, all aimed at improving their distribution to planned export terminals in Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

“These connected projects are being illegally segmented for separate review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Community resistance is intense all along the path, from Florida to Georgia to New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

“FERC should review the Spectra system as a whole….

“FERC and the Department of Energy also need to LISTEN to citizens, who are sending a message loud and clear that these projects are NOT a ‘public convenience.’  In fact they are viewed as being shoved down the throat of community after community, and are of benefit only to the corporation itself.”  Website:

Action in Georgia & Florida

Property owners in Georgia and Florida quickly combined their forces to challenge Spectra Energy and FERC.  Their objections range from safety to property rights to challenging the necessity for the pipeline.

Sandra Jones, a property owner in Moultrie, Georgia, ran the numbers and concluded in comments to FERC (emphasis added):4

“There is no need for this new pipeline.  Sabal Trail is misrepresenting the truth. In a state where there are only 9,031,051 households, why is enough natural gas needed to produce power for over 22,000,000 households needed? These figures only represent the three major [pipe]lines and do not consider the KinderMorgan line or other smaller ones also coming into the state.

“It becomes very obvious this natural gas is intended for exportation and will not benefit any of the citizens in Alabama, Georgia, or Florida if one looks at the business models of Spectra and NextEra Energies.”

Lessons from New Jersey

In New Jersey, Dale Hardman, Founder & President of NO Gas Pipeline, told this writer (emphasis added):

Spectra is totally untrustworthy!

“We found out from the beginning we must declare as a formal intervenor to sue FERC which regulates ALL interstate pipelines. They trump ALL City and State ordinances. You cannot get an injunction to stop a pipeline. ONLY by suing in federal court can a court overrule FERC.

“FERC was established by the National Gas Act and appointed by the President.  We are awaiting D.C. District Court judge to hear oral arguments for our brief.”  Website:

PHMSA Official Avoids Pipelines

An official of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) admits he would avoid buying or building a home near a pipeline.

The PHMSA official, Bill Lowery, attended the annual conference of the Pipeline Safety Trust in New Orleans.5  Based in Houston,Lowery is Manager of Community Assistance & Technical Services for PHMSA’s Southwest Region.

A video of Lowery’s admission – or advice – appears on DeSmogBlog during an interview conducted by Julie Dermansky.6  (See footnote #6 under Links & Resources below.)

Dermansky reports:

“A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn’t advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline.

When asked what he would do if his home were in the path of a transmission pipeline, Lowery replied (emphasis added):

“Here is what I did when I bought my house — I looked on all the maps, I looked for all the well holes. I found there is nothing around me but dry holes and no pipelines.  And it’s not because I’m afraid of pipelines, it’s not because I think something will happen.  It’s because something could happen. … You’re always better off, if you have a choice….”

He trailed off before finishing his sentence, but added that, “If I was building a house, I wouldn’t build it on a refinery, … I wouldn’t build it on a pipeline, because they’re all industrial facilities. That’s just the reality.”  [See blog & video link in footnote #6 under Links & Resources below.]


Two assessments of Mr. Lowery’s comment:  First, it is a continuing illustration that the new NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) are found among energy industry executives and regulators.

Second, Mr. Lowery is correct – “you’re always better off, if you have a choice.”  Unfortunately, property owners staring down the barrel of an eminent domain lawsuit or compulsory integration laws in most states, do not have a choice.  They do not stand on a level playing field legally or politically.

Eminent domain and compulsory integration laws put landowners in a face-off with the equivalent of a cartel comprised of energy companies and government, because the law allows corporations – backed by government – to control pricing and competition (i.e., “just compensation” and what constitutes “public interest”).

buyers agent brisbane
Property Rights Emerge as Growing Issue;

Is Tillerson a Property Rights ‘Illiterate’?

A recent Wyoming Supreme Court decision noted the shale gas ‘gold rush’ has triggered the law of unintended consequences for energy industry executives and government regulators where property rights are concerned.1

More property owners and communities have decided they do not want to be dictated to by energy executives who do not have drilling rigs, pipelines, compressors or underground natural gas storage reservoirs in their own backyard.

As such energy industry operations proliferate across the US and Canada, more property owners, communities and organizations are challenging the adverse effects on, first, the environment and now, property rights.

The most recent example of the energy industry’s new-age NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson who filed suit, along with ten others, to stop construction on a water tower near his property in Bartonville, Texas, about 30 miles outside of Dallas.2

Water Sold for ‘Fracing’?

Tillerson and his rich neighbors (with million dollar property values) sued the Bartonville Water Supply Corporation (BWSC) for, among other fears, that “BWSC will sell water to oil and gas explorers for fracing shale formations leading to traffic with heavy trucks on FM 407, creating a noise nuisance and traffic hazards.”  [p. 17 of Armey et al. v. Bartonville Water Supply Corp. et al. Number 2012-30982-211, Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition, in the District Court of Denton County, Texas, March 15, 2013]

Tillerson and his attorney say the suit is about a water tower not fracking.  While they pedal backward as fast as they can, this lawsuit is a declaration of property rights by the Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil which describes itself as “the largest publicly traded … oil and gas company” in the world. Click here to read about Pinochio Award for Spectra Energy’s ‘Ground Game’ on Sabal Trail Pipeline,

In this court document, they repeatedly assert the right to enjoy their property.  In a staggering statement of hypocritical self-absorption, the lawsuit declares (emphasis added):

“Each of the homeowners built or purchased their homes in Bartonville to live in an upscale community free of industrial properties, tall buildings, and other structures that might devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.” [p. 5 of Armey et al. v. Bartonville Water Supply Corp. et al. Number 2012-30982-211, Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition, in the District Court of Denton County, Texas, March 15, 2013]

Tell that to “fellow” property owners who live with fracked wells 300 feet from their door or whose property sits on top of underground natural gas storage reservoirs.  Do they not have the same rights as the Tillersons?

Right to Enjoy THEIR Property

The rich folks’ lawsuit is the best legal read currently available, a testament to the double standard of the new NIMBYs of the energy industry.  It is rife with melodramatic whining over their property rights (emphasis added):

  • The lawsuit bleats about “the emotional harm they have sustained from the deprivation of the enjoyment of their property because of fear, apprehension, offense, loss of peace of mind, visual blight or other similar acts or circumstances.”[pp. 11-12 of Armey et al. v. Bartonville Water Supply Corp. et al. Number 2012-30982-211, Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition, in the District Court of Denton County, Texas, March 15, 2013]
  •  “The construction of the water tower will create a constant and unbearable nuisance to those that [sic] live next to it.  A water tower will have lights on at all hours of the night, traffic to and from the tower at unknown and unreasonable hours, noise from mechanical and electrical equipment needed to maintain and, operate the water tower, and creates and [sic] unsafe and attractive nuisance to the children of the area.”[p. 17 of Armey et al. v. Bartonville Water Supply Corp. et al. Number 2012-30982-211, Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition, in the District Court of Denton County, Texas, March 15, 2013]

So here we have the leader of the largest oil and gas company in the world, whose very name is Latin for “king,” a person of “ordinary sensibilities” (according to the lawsuit).  He and his ten neighbors stand before the world suffering multiple symptoms:

  • emotional harm
  •  irreparable harm to property value
  • “fear, apprehension, offense, loss of peace of mind, visual blight” and more.

Rex: Property Rights ‘Illiterate’

CEO Rex “Not-In-My-Backyard” Tillerson is on record calling the public “illiterate” in science, math and engineering; and what the energy industry does “is a mystery to them and they find it scary.”3

Au contraire, NIMBY Rex.  No mystery here.  The folks whose property rights your company and industry trample with the collusion of government (as in “cartel”) understand it much better than you do.

Is it possible, Rex, you and your wealthy, powerful friends are illiterate on the issue of property rights?  Now that you find the enjoyment of your property  threatened, it’s “scary?”

When your moment of property rights literacy arrived, you failed.

Fellow property owners who have been there, done that – thanks to you – call it poetic justice.

Links & Resources

1Wyoming Supreme Court Decision – Among other points, the court noted (emphasis added):

“Impetus for the extensive changes came from increased use of eminent domain proceedings by public utilities and energy related industries, a void in the Wyoming eminent domain law perceived by landowners as allowing abuse of eminent domain by nongovernmental entities, and accelerating market values of land, making one-time payments for compensation less satisfactory.”

See Wyoming Supreme Court decision – Barlow Ranch, Limited Partnership v. Greencore Pipeline Company, LLC; (2013 WY 34; Case Number: S-12-0038; S-12-0039; Decided March 19, 2013); paragraph cited above on p. 11 of the 43-page decision.  The Court’s decision is easy to locate on the internet and is available as a downloadable pdf file.

This story is covered extensively by U.S. and international news media; a download of the lawsuit and response is available via The Wall Street Journal (a subscription site).  For that, see EXXON CEO Joins Suit Citing Fracking Concerns:  The Wall Street Journal by Daniel Gilbert, February 20, 2014.

Or type the following reference to the lawsuit into a search engine and you should be able to download the pdf file:  Armey et al. V. Bartonville Water Supply Corp. et al. Number 2012-30982-211, Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition in the District Court of Denton County, Texas.

Tillerson stated in paragraph 16 of his remarks (emphasis added):  “Now, with these new technologies that evolve always come a lot of questions. Ours is an industry that is built on technology, it’s built on science, it’s built on engineering, and because we have a society that by and large is illiterate in these areas, science, math and engineering, what we do is a mystery to them and they find it scary. And because of that, it creates easy opportunities for opponents of development, activist organizations, to manufacture fear.”

Pinochio Award for Spectra Energy’s ‘Ground Game’ on Sabal Trail Pipeline,

While Company Pushes 8 Pipeline Projects in 14 States; 

Meanwhile PHMSA Documents Corrosion Problems

Spectra Energy (NYSE:  SE) has eight new pipeline projects in the U.S. that, if approved, will result in more than 830 miles of pipeline in 14 states.  In addition, it is constructing a new underground natural gas storage reservoir in Louisiana with a capacity of 15 billion cubic feet.

In Canada, Spectra Energy is busy with three major projects, all in British Columbia.  These involve two processing plants for raw nat gas and a huge “transportation system” – the word pipeline is never used – that is 525 miles in length.  Check for your state in the highlight list below under Links & Resources.1

With all this experience, property owners and communities might expect Spectra Energy execs to be on top of their game when it comes to a knowledgeable response to questions about its pipelines and corporate performance record.

Or maybe not. Click Here to read about OP-ED — Spectra Energy: Trust Facts Not Promises.

Largest Pipeline Project

In the U.S. the company’s largest pipeline project is the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline aimed at cutting a 475 mile swath through three states:  Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Surely this is a platform for Spectra Energy to demonstrate best-in-class response to questions – to not only reassure communities but to impress federal agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)?

Or maybe not.

Property owners make clear their opposition to Sable Trail pipeline. (Photo courtesy of Carol Singletary.) 

1st Pinochio Award

For example, Andrea Grover, Spectra Energy Director of Stakeholder Outreach (ironic title), asserts at a public pipeline meeting in Georgia that property owners at Spectra Energy’s huge Steckman Ridge compressor/storage facility in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, are “happy” despite ongoing problems there for 5 years, and a consistent lack of response from Spectra Energy to questions.

Thanks to word-of-web, Georgia property owners know Grover’s assertion is a lie.  What else does one call it – an error, slip of the tongue, disingenuous?

FACT:  More than a dozen families who live next to or near the problematic Steckman Ridge compressor/storage facility have complained to Spectra Energy management about a ring of health, water and operational issues surrounding this facility since operations began in 2009.

They have also complained in writing to the federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Based on record keeping by neighbors, there have been some 60 shutdowns, blowdowns and related incidents at the Steckman Ridge compressor station and underground natural gas storage facility between August 2009 and the present.

2nd Pinochio Award

The same Spectra Energy executive, Andrea Grover, asserts to Georgia property owners that uncontrolled releases of methane and other hydrocarbons at the Steckman Ridge compressor facility are “normal.” Let’s hope not.

FACT:  Grover should recall the March 9-10 incident last year at Spectra Energy’s Steckman Ridge facility because she was directly involved.  This was yet another uncontrolled release that resulted in 431.5 thousand cubic feet of methane and other hydrocarbons vented to the atmosphere over a two-day period.

Before property owners discovered on their own the size of the leak, Grover asserted to the Associate Editor of the Bedford Gazette that only a “small volume” escaped.  Grover and her Spectra Energy management team all the way up to Canadian CEO Greg Ebel still refuse to publicly acknowledge the size of its fugitive methane release.2

Andrea Grover, Spectra Energy’s Director of Stakeholder Outreach.

3rd Pinochio Award

At the same public meeting in Georgia, Grover asserted to property owners and the news media that she is unfamiliar with the federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) 6-figure fine levied against Spectra Energy CEO Greg Ebel.

FACT:  How is it that a veteran of the industry and Spectra Energy whose job is about pipelines remains unaware of such facts?  Does Grover really not know that in December 2012, PHMSA issued her CEO Greg Ebel a “Final Order” and civil penalty of $134,500 related to various violations across several states.

7-year Track Record – Pipeline Corrosion Incidents

Thirteen of the 21 incident causes are attributed to “internal corrosion” –  that’s 65%.  Five of the 21 incident causes are listed as “Material/Weld/Equipment” failure.  None of the incidents are attributed to excavation.

 Spectra Energy’s Pipeline Corrosion Problem

Failure rates offer a real-world metric – much more valuable than promises about “safety.”  Thus, Spectra Energy’s track record, documented by the federal government (PHMSA), reveals internal pipeline corrosion is the chief cause of “significant” pipeline incidents for Spectra Energy over the last 7 years.

Remember three lessons:  Track record, track record, track record.

Spectra Energy’s challenge is simple:  Practice full disclosure about its performance record – full disclosure about the company’s fugitive methane emissions, valve failures, corrosion incidents, and catastrophic failures where they have occurred.

Links & Resources

  • Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project – 21.4 miles of pipeline through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island & Massachusetts; agreements signed; regulatory review to come; completion date – November 2016
  • Kingsport Expansion – 15.5 miles of pipeline expansion in Sullivan County, Tennessee, Washington & Smyth Counties, Virginia; project is in regulatory review with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
  • NEXUS Gas Transmission – 250 miles of pipeline through Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, Canada; currently in evaluation stage
  • Ohio Pipeline Energy Network (OPEN) – 36 miles of new transmission pipeline through Columbiana, Carroll, Jefferson, Belmont & Monroe counties, Ohio; project completion date – 4th quarter 2015; currently in regulatory review with FERC
  • Sabal Trail Transmission Expansion – 474 miles of new transmission pipeline through Alabama, Georgia and Florida; project completion date – May 2017; currently in regulatory review with FERC
  • Salem Lateral Project – 1.2 miles of new 16-inch diameter lateral pipeline in Salem, Massachusetts; completion date – November 2015; currently in evaluation state
  • Texas Eastern’s Appalachia to Market Expansion (TEAM) – 33.6 miles of new 36-inch diameter pipeline and above-ground facilities (compressor units) in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi aimed at “bi-directional flow” on the Texas Eastern pipeline system.  Project completion – November 2014; currently in regulatory review with FERC
  • Uniontown to Gas City Expansion Project (U2GC) – multiple compressor station and meter station modifications to permit “bi-directional” flow of gas in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Project completion in November 2015.

Spectra Energy’s New Storage projects in the U.S.