Thursday, January 29, 2009

Will Legislators stand up for Arkansans or Natural Gas Companies?

by Brett Hooton

Representative Jonathan Dismang (R – Beebe) filed a bill last Friday to protect the rights of everyday Arkansans. HB1178 protects Arkansas landowners from bullying by the large natural gas companies (to be fair only one natural gas company is currently doing the bullying). It should be the responsibility of government to protect the property rights of Arkansans...Arkansans who worked hard for what they have and pay property taxes to support, among other things, local schools. If we can't expect our government to protect our property from the unethical encroachment of others, then we should realize our government isn't really looking out for us. It is time our legislators stand up for us, and stand with Representative Dismang, regardless of how much money the natural gas industry donated to their campaigns.

Arkansas law allows utility companies to use eminent domain for pipeline (also could be telephone or electrical lines) declared as "common carriers". This means that the pipeline is used by more than one company to transport, in this case, natural gas.

The problem in the Fayetteville Shale region is that the natural gas company is using the power of eminent domain to gain right-of-way access for their gathering system to collect the natural gas they just pumped out of the ground. The company is able to bully the landowners into providing access, threatening legal action if they refuse. Most of these landowners are not able to afford hiring an attorney to fight the horde of attorneys the company would haul in.

The law currently does not clearly define common carrier and this bill clarifies when companies are not able to use the power of eminent domain. This may not seem like a big deal, unless you're in a similar situation as the family involved in this current court case.

Texas is experiencing a similar problem. There is extensive natural gas drilling throughout part of the Fort Worth area. The natural gas company in that area is using eminent domain to dig up peoples' driveways and yards to lay large pipe throughout their neighborhoods. We need to clarify Arkansas law before we find ourselves in a similar situation.

The natural gas industry and their high prices lobbyists will probably fight this bill. I hope our legislators will have the backbone necessary to stand up for us.

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