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My thoughts were nowhere to be found as the consistent beat from my bike chain placed my mind in a trance. I waved to my new neighbors who decided to take their small children for a walk on what seemed to be the most idyllic day of the year. As I felt the familiar metallic taste begin to fill my mouth, I decided to jump off my bike and catch my breath. The beat of the bike chain stopped and I could hear nothing but the wind blowing by my face. It was soothing. I blocked the sun from my eyes and looked at the magnificence surrounding me. Nature always had a special place in my heart. I took one last breath and just as I was about to hop back on my bike I heard a deafening boom and saw a massive inferno barreling towards my location faster than a freight train. Just before it was about to reach me, it was redirected and took a sharp left. It was then that I realized it was following the path of the newly installed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. The force from the blast knocked me to the ground. Once I knew it was safe, I stood up and examined the wasteland that now surrounded me. The beautiful scene that I had just been admiring moments before had been twisted into a wasteland. The only sound I heard was the distant roar of the pipeline continuing to explode. I looked around for my neighbors, but they were nowhere in sight. I knew their fate; the pipeline stops for no one. Now this story was completely made up, but for many of us who live next to or even near a pipeline, this scenario is very real and very possible. Pipeline companies often say that the chance of a pipeline exploding is slim to none, yet year after year, pipelines still continue to explode all over the country. According to PennLive, one of the more recent gas explosions happened in Allentown where a pipeline exploded, destroyed eight row homes, and killed five people. A pair of those people were a sixteen-year-old sister and a four-month old brother. Over a dozen were injured and hundreds were forced to evacuate the area. People are very concerned over the possibility of a pipeline explosion, yet that is just one of the many reasons why Lancaster County residents are fighting a David and Goliath-style battle against Williams, the creator of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. The pipeline, which is currently being installed, is forty-two inches in diameter in some areas, including Lancaster County. It will be used to hold and transport natural gas across the United States to be exported to various countries. This may seem like an important step for America to make the transition into a clean energy, but that is far from the truth. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline installation is not justified because its use of eminent domain is unconstitutional, it is not as safe as Williams claims, and it is destroying the environment.
The pipeline company, Williams, is a private energy company. Private is the key-word in that sentence. These private pipeline companies, without any concern over the general public’s demands or needs, begin the process of eminent domain. This is one of the most controversial and emotional steps in the process for many landowners due to the fact that the ruling is almost always in favor of the pipeline companies. Most landowners feel helpless in this case because they are up against massive energy corporations that are willing and able to shell out astronomical amounts of money just to ensure they get their pipeline installed. The process of eminent domain has always been very sensitive because it is constantly toeing the line that is Constitution. Authors Joseph Limpscomb, PhD, and J.R. Kimball, MAI, say eminent domain is the government’s right to take someone’s property when it will be used for the greater good of the public. When a giant, private energy corporation, such as Williams, is at the receiving end of any and all profits that are made from the pipeline, is it really for the greater good of the public? When hundreds of miles of land are being ripped up and environments disrupted for the sake of a pipeline that will have no effect on the community, is it really for the greater good of the public? When almost the entire community opposes the pipeline and it is still approved for installation, is it really for the greater good of the public?
With eminent domain comes the issue of just compensation. There are two parts that the government must follow in order for just compensation to apply. The first is rule is called the before and after rule and Limpscomb and Kimball explain it saying, “the value of the property before the taking minus the value after the taking” (28). The second rule is called the value plus damage rule which is when a smaller portion of land is taken, but a bigger section remains. The pipeline company must pay fair market value for the smaller section of land, and they also have to pay for any damages or repairs to the bigger piece of land. Once the pipeline companies appraise the land, they will make an offer to the landowners. The landowners can either accept their offer, or they can take them to court. In the Peregrine Pipeline Company v. Eagle Ford Landowners, described by Limpscomb and Kimball, the landowners had taken Peregrine Pipeline Company to court after they had made the offer of just $79,979 for their land. After the landowners had their land appraised by two different appraisers, it was determined that Eagle Ford should be compensated $1,633,000 for their land plus damages. The pipeline companies do not take into account the decrease in property value when a pipeline is installed on, or even near a piece of land. According to First American Professional Real Estate Services, many state and federal laws are pending which would require landowners to disclose a pipeline proximity to their property to a buyer. If a landowner discloses that information, the value of their property instantly decreases just for the fact that there is a pipeline on the property. Having a pipeline on the property would most likely not be a buyer’s first choice.
Also, development or environmental reconstruction is limited or banned entirely after the installation of a pipeline. Williams writes on their website, although farming is still permitted, “Two notable exceptions include planting trees within the easement or placing a permanent structure within the easement, both of which are prohibited.” This basically means that the land is deemed useless. This is one of the biggest reasons why property value diminishes when a pipeline is installed.
One issue that Lancaster County residents were facing was that Williams was sending out tempting payments in the form of an agreement to landowners who would be affected by the pipeline. The agreement was a tempting monetary offer to the landowner and in return, the landowner agreed to have the pipeline built on their property. Lancaster Against Pipelines quoted Lancaster County resident and my former neighbor, Ed Saxton, who said, "People in Lancaster County, Lebanon County, and other counties- do not sign these agreements. This is a ploy to get a foothold with FERC.” FERC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is the commission that ultimately decides whether or not the pipeline installation is permitted. In an attempt to make themselves look like they had more support, Williams had been sending these agreements to try to persuade landowners into just taking the deal and not protest the pipeline. They would then use those statistics in conferences with FERC to suggest that they had more support behind their project than the actual they actually had within the community.
Finally, the biggest fear that almost all landowners who have a pipeline on their property have is the daunting fact that at any time, that pipeline could leak or explode. Lena Groeger states, “Pipelines are generally regarded as a safe way to transport fuel, a far better alternative to tanker trucks or freight trains.” This may be true for transportation means, but did she consider the fact that pipelines are basically hundreds of miles of pipe that could fail and explode at any time? Also, tanker trucks and freight trains may not be as efficient, but this means that if an accident does occur, the chances of it being deadly are not nearly as high. However, when a pipeline explodes, the results are almost always deadly.
According to Lancaster Against Pipelines, Williams is not legally required to notify landowners if they are within the ‘Hazard Zone.’ They also state that the potential impact radius or hazard zone is the approximate area within which there will be immediate damage in the case of an explosion. Should this occur, everything within the hazard zone would be incinerated and there would be virtually no chance of escape or survival.” Lancaster Against Pipelines determined that the forty-two inch diameter Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline would have a Hazard Zone of 1,115 feet on either side of the pipeline. As someone who lives within the Hazard Zone, this is extremely troubling.
Although the potential for a pipeline blowing up is what concerns landowners the most, pipelines can do extensive damage without an explosion ever occurring. For example, the installation process itself is detrimental for the environment. First, a roughly fifty foot wide workspace must be created in which everything, including nature preserves, is stripped away. This is the most infuriating issue among the environmentalists within protest groups. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline travels through nature preserves, such as Tucquan Glen, leaving large clearings for the pipeline. Then a massive trench is made which involves heavy machinery that drag dirt onto the streets. This pollutes the water when that mixes into the runoff rain and affects streams and rivers.
Also, pipeline leaks are beginning to increase due to the fact that there is wear on the pipes and they are beginning to weaken. Groeger states, “The 2.5 million miles of America's pipelines suffer hundreds of leaks and ruptures every year, costing lives and money. As existing lines grow older, critics warn that the risk of accidents on those lines will only increase.” The leaking pipelines can not only leak toxic gas into the air, but it can also leak whatever substance it contained. For example, a pipeline in Lycoming County, PA leaked fifty-five thousand gallons of gasoline into the Susquehanna River in 2016. Charlotte Katzenmoyer (qtd. In Tom Knapp), who is the director of public works for Lancaster states, “With the amount that spilled, we certainly could see some impact on our intake along the Susquehanna River.” Many members among the Lancaster Against Pipelines group are concerned that the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline could leak into wells and drinking water since it is a pebble throw away from some residencies. Lancaster Against Pipelines stating, “The proposed pipeline hugs roughly 20 miles of the Susquehanna River through Lancaster County and crosses numerous scenic waterways, virtually ensuring that consequences of an accident would be environmentally catastrophic.” A pipeline doesn’t have to explode to create a disaster.
In conclusion, from day one of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline construction, I have driven by a scene that makes my insides churn. The most beautiful country landscape turned into the very familiar construction site with massive, pollution spewing machines and red dirt that seems to follow you everywhere you go. Roughly fifteen foot tall mounds of dirt form a barrier, keeping me from seeing the scenes I enjoyed so much. It’s a symbol of the serene world being disrupted and pushed away as society tears its own path. I understand they’ll remove these miniature mountains and the rain will wash the dirt-caked roads, but that pipeline will always be there. No one wanted the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline except for the people that were going to build it, yet it was still approved. Williams has robbed Lancaster County of not only its treasured land and nature preserves, but also of its constitutional rights. To the people of Lancaster Against Pipelines and anyone who has protested the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, thank you for caring and keep on fighting. The moment you begin to submit to the government or giant corporations is the moment we lose our freedom.
“Five Significant Natural Gas Explosions in Pennsylvania in the Past Decade.” PennLive. 3 July
2017. PA Media Group.
20 December 2017.
Groeger, Lena. "Pipelines Explained: How Safe Are America's 2.5 Million Miles of Pipelines?"
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“Hazard Zone.” Lancaster Against Pipelines. http://www.wearelancastercounty.org/hazardzone. 18 December 2017.
“Is transmission pipeline proximity disclosure required by law?” First American Professional
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Drinking Water Unclear.” LancasterOnline, LNPMediaGroup.inc, 20 Oct. 2016, lancasteronline.com/news/local/gallons-of-gasoline-spills-into-susquehanna-effect-on-lancaster-county/article_5ed0d20c-97b8-11e6-8fb8-17dc59d3a8e1.html.
Lipscomb, Joseph B, and J. R. Kimball. “Pipelines, Eminent Domain, and Damages to the
Remainder: A Texas Lawsuit Trilogy,” The Appraiser Journal. 2017, 28-32. Explora,
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Against Pipelines. 6 October 2014.
http://www.wearelancastercounty.org/slideshow-lancaster-landowners-reject-williams-easement-offers. 20 December 2017.
“Will I Still Own the Land? Can I Still Use It?” Williams, The Williams Companies,
http://co.williams.com/landowner-information. 20 December 2017.