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Denbury Green Pipeline

The 120-mile “Green” Pipeline, completed in 2010, runs from Donaldsonville, Louisiana to Houston, Texas.

Despite the drop in oil prices, the tug-of-war between landowners and the Denbury Green pipeline company continues to play out in court in the landmark case that defined common-carrier status in Texas.

Texas Rice Partners, Ltd. v. Denbury Green Pipeline, involving Denbury’s right to invoke eminent domain to obtain the properties of Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd., a consortium of rice farmers, was ruled in the pipeline company’s favor by both the 172nd District Court and the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont, Texas, in 2011. These courts claimed that Denbury was indeed a common carrier, and, therefore, could use eminent domain to obtain land to build its pipeline.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, reversed those rulings, arguing that Denbury’s classification as a common carrier rested too heavily on a pipeline company simply checking a box on a one-page document for the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) and that the RRC’s findings could not reliably and conclusively determine a company’s power to use eminent domain.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court late 2011, and the district court again ruled in favor of Denbury’s common carrier status in 2014. The case continued again to the appellate court in Beaumont, which heard oral arguments for the case last month. Denbury built the pipeline during this legal back-and-forth, but the landowners hope the appellate court will send the case back to the Supreme Court as the case has yet to be heard by a jury and that Denbury’s intent to serve as a common carrier at the time of condemnation has not been established (Read more here).

While the court of appeals has not yet ruled on this matter, the RRC announced new regulations for granting a T-4 permit – required for property condemnation by pipeline companies – effective March 2015 in an effort to better regulate this process. The new regulations will ask for more substantial information and supporting documentation from companies applying for the permit and enforce a new timeline for the application process (Read more about the new regulations here).

As laws and precedent for private companies to invoke eminent domain continue to change, landowners should try to stay up-to-date to better protect their property rights. In fact, we all should. The laws are changing quickly, and the tug-of-war between pipeline companies and landowners will impact us all.

Justin Hodge is a law partner in Houston, Texas. He focuses on eminent domain, condemnation and landowner defense. For more information, please see http://www.jmehlaw.com.  

Coauthored by Justin Hodge and Ayla Syed.