Oklahoma landowners who live, farm and ranch in the path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline fought their battles during the past three years and have now washed their hands of the matter even as it becomes a key issue in Washington politics.
“In the beginning I was very upset with it,” said Marilyn Elwood, 61, of Coal County. “I didn't want to be right in the middle of pipelines on either side of my house.”
She said her family fought the Canadian company TransCanada at first, trying to prevent the pipeline from being the third passing through its 40-acre ranch near Coalgate. TransCanada started the process of eminent domain.
“But I got to thinking. You put all these people to work, and these people have got to go to work,” Elwood said.
Now she hopes Congress will find a way to override the president's decision not to let the pipeline cross the United States.
The Keystone XL pipeline would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast carrying crude oil to refineries near Houston.
The pipeline, estimated to cost $7 billion, has been rejected by the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama amid a number of concerns, including the path the pipeline takes through Nebraska.
Environmental concerns in Nebraska included the impact the pipeline would have on the sensitive Sandhills ecosystem and the Ogallala Aquifer that is a key water source for several states.
TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said the company is preparing to reapply with alternate routes through Nebraska. A number of Republicans in Congress are working to override the president's decision.
But in Oklahoma, a portion of the pipeline already has been built, and Howard said the company is 99 percent done with land negotiations for right of way in the state.
Settled but unhappy
While almost all of the landowners initially approached by TransCanada eventually settled with the company, not everyone is happy about the outcome.
“We ultimately went to a court hearing for mediation and ended up settling with them,” said Bruce Scott, of Kay County.
The section of the Keystone pipeline that runs from Cushing through Kansas and ends at Steele City, Neb., has been built. It now runs across Scott's 320 acres and is pumping oil.
“We got quite a bit more than the initial offer,” Scott said. He declined to say how much his family was paid due to a confidentiality agreement that came with the offer. Several landowners said they signed confidentiality agreements as part of the settlements, and court records only indicate the appraised value of the land during the condemnation process.
TransCanada filed at least 60 condemnation cases against Oklahoma property owners in the past three years, according to court records.
Scott said no amount would have made him happy about the pipeline.
“This property has been in my family for years and years and years, and I don't really want you to have it,” Scott said. “But if we can't stop you, we'll be reasonable.”
Scott said he had no complaints about the construction process, but he said that the dirt has settled in around the buried oil line, creating holes on his land. Someone from the company is coming to inspect the line soon and check for holes, he said.
“Basically you've got a one-hundred-some-acre strip of land you can't build on at anytime. It does hamper you,” he said. “There's a permanent easement there that encumbers your property no matter what. It's there for eternity.”
TransCanada works in conjunction with landowners to make sure there are no issues with the pipelines, said Howard, the company's spokesman.
“Every year we deal with about 40,000 landowners along our entire pipeline systems,” he said. “If there are outstanding issues then we would certainly bring them to the land agent. We investigate, and if there's something that we need to fix, we get in there.”
Harlan Hentges, an attorney representing property owners in Bryan County, said they went through a lengthy court process with TransCanada. Then last year, he said, the company dropped its attempt to use eminent domain to acquire right of way on property owned by the White family.
“It is a victory,” Hentges, of Edmond, said. “But they just went around them, and they had already basically threatened eminent domain against every other landowner that they went across in Oklahoma.”
Elwood, the Coal County landowner, said her family wasn't satisfied with the amount that it was paid for the pipeline. But it's for the good of the country, she said.
“Nothing has ever gone wrong with these pipelines,” Elwood said. “It's just kind of scary to have gas lines, but everybody's got them going through their places.”