TransCanada wins Texas court fight over Keystone XL

A Texas farmer has lost her bid to prevent Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. from expropriating part of her farm to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
The challenge by farmer Julia Trigg Crawford to TransCanada's expropriation rights inspired property rights activists to protest on the steps of the courthouse in Paris, Texas. (Sam Craft/The Paris News/Associated Press)

A Texas farmer has lost her bid to prevent Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. from expropriating part of her farm to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

A county court upheld the company’s status as a common carrier and turned down Julia Trigg Crawford’s application to take the issue to a civil trial late Wednesday.

Earlier this month, lawyers argued for six hours over whether Crawford should be allowed to challenge TransCanada’s status as a common carrier, which in Texas gives it what lawyers call the power of eminent domain, or the right to seize property.

There’s been no decision on an appeal.

The $12-billion, 36-inch diameter pipeline would carry up to 1.1 million barrels of mainly 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.

Most of the 850 Texas landowners along the route have signed agreements with TransCanada.

Crawford and her supporters said 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."

Case became property rights focal point

She argued that Keystone XL will operate solely for TransCanada’s benefit, failing to meet the legal definition of a common carrier where other firms are free to move their products over the pipeline.

In an emailed statement, Crawford said she was "incredibly disappointed" with the ruling, and "disturbed that a foreign corporation like TransCanada is allowed to hide behind the skirt of the Texas Railroad Commission and its Common Carrier rubber stamp."

TransCanada spokesman Grady Semmons said the ruling reaffirms that it has continued to "follow all state and federal laws and regulations as we move forward with the construction of the Gulf Coast Project."

Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska, which has been fighting TransCanada's pipeline plans, calls the ruling an "affront to landowners' liberties."

"TransCanada has used its financial and legal resources to bully landowners like Julia Trigg Crawford in order to clear the way for their multibillion-dollar tarsands pipeline," Kleeb said in a release.

"Throughout the process, landowners have been cast aside and their concerns about land and water ignored."

Crawford says TransCanada unresponsive

Crawford had negotiated successfully in the past with two other pipeline companies in the past to alter their routes, but claimed 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.

The case had 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.

Supporters have said the project would create 50,000 jobs and $2 billion US in economic potential for the state.

U.S. president Barack Obama rejected the application by TransCanada in November, but the firm resubmitted its proposal for an altered northern segment of the route in May, one it said would address concerns about potential damage to a massive aquifer beneath the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.

The administration later approved a southern leg, which will run through Texas.

With files from The Canadian Press