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Easements Made Easier: Building Pipelines with the Power of Eminent Domain Under the Natural Gas Act

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By: Richard H. Herold

Any person or entity seeking to construct a natural gas pipeline and successful in obtaining a certificate of convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may exercise the power of eminent domain to obtain easements across private property when those easements are necessary and cannot be obtained consensually (by contract) from the landowners.  Columbia Gas Transmission, L.L.C. v. 76 Acres More or Less, 2014 WL 2960836 (D. Md. June 27, 2014).  the Columbia Gas Court recently held that (1) the property’s legal description need not be attached to sufficiently identify the property to be condemned, and (2) even in the absence of a federal condemnation statute authorizing immediate possession of the property, the condemning plaintiff may obtain an order to take immediate possession of the property since it would be wasteful and inefficient to skip over one or more parcels in the construction process – only if the condemning plaintiff is capable of satisfying the requirements for preliminary injunctive relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, including posting a bond sufficient to cover the landowners’ costs and damages if it is determined that the landowner was wrongfully enjoined.  Ultimately, the statutory language of the Natural Gas Act, and the strong public policies favoring the production and distribution of energy here in the United States remain potent tools for condemning plaintiffs and their lawyers seeking easements to construct natural gas pipelines across private property.