A Texas farmer is back in court today in her continuing challenge of Calgary-based TransCanada’s right to expropriate a part of her farm to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Julia Trigg Crawford’s hearing before a county court judge in Paris, Texas, is the beginning of a process to challenge TransCanada’s claim to be a common carrier, which in Texas gives it what lawyers call the power of eminent domain, or the right to seize property.
The $12-billion, 36-inch diameter pipeline would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of oilsands crude a day more than 2,700 kilometers from Alberta to refineries in south Texas, crossing six states, including Crawford’s farm in northeast Texas. The farm has been in her family for 64 years.
Crawford and her supporters say TransCanada attained its authority simply by checking a box on a form submitted to the Texas Railroad Commission — the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in the state — that says "common carrier."
In order to be considered common carriers in the U.S., pipeline companies must allow for other firms to move their products over the pipeline.
Crawford’s lawsuit claims Keystone XL operates solely for TransCanada’s benefit.
"One of my first concerns," Crawford says, "was that to go the path they had planned, they had to horizontally drill under the creek that I have water rights to .… I didn’t exactly want this sludge being pumped underneath the creek."
TransCanada says it believes Crawford’s claims are "without merit" and that what it is doing is allowed to by U.S. law. Supporters have said the project would create 50,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic potential for the state.
If the judge allows, the suit will proceed to a civil trial on Sept. 4.
The case has become a focal point in a conflict that pits TransCanada, multiple legal and public relations firms, property owners, environmentalists, lobbyists and politicians during a presidential campaign year against each other over claims of job creation versus hazards posed to property rights and water supplies.
Crawford’s family has launched a website, www.standwithjulia.com, to rally support.
Texas law only gives landowners the right to appeal the price offered for the land, and not the fact of expropriation.
Crawford says she has negotiated successfully with two other pipeline companies in the past to alter their routes, but claims that TransCanada was unresponsive, offering her $21,600 US to cross her property, an increase from its original offer of $5,000.
One reason the other firms changed their routes was the possibility that several burial vaults sacred to Caddo First Nations exist on Crawford’s farm.
U.S. president Barack Obama rejected the application by TransCanada in November, but the firm resubmitted its proposal for an altered route in May, one it said would address concerns about potential damage to a massive aquifer beneath the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.