Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

How Keystone XL Beat a Farmer’s Restraining Order

Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

Protestors agains the Keystone XL pipeline gather outside the White House last August.

On Friday, a district court judge dissolved a temporary restraining order filed by Lamar County farmer Julia Trigg Crawford and her family against TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline. That pipeline would run nearly 1,700 miles from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries on the gulf coast. Just days after the restraining order was removed, the company announced it intended to go ahead and start construction on a southern portion of the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas.

Just how did the company beat the restraining order?

TransCanada’s motion to dissolve it (embedded below) outlines the argument that won over the judge. Under Texas law, temporary restraining orders can’t be given unless the “adverse party” (in this case, TransCanada) is given notice. The exception is if “immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the applicant before notice can be served.” Crawford’s attorney argued that Caddo Indian artifacts on her land would be damaged, but TransCanada’s assurance that they wouldn’t appears to have won over the judge.

The company argues that since it had deposited twice the amount of the money it feels is fair market value for the land with the court, it was entitled to proceed with condemnation of Crawford’s property. In its motion, TransCanada estimates the amount it owes Crawford for the land and damages is $10,395.

Crawford intends to fight that eminent domain case in a court hearing scheduled for April 30, with a pretrail on April 19. “The burden of proof is now on the pipeline after Denbury,” she told StateImpact Texas. “That’s the one glimmering light in Texas law right now that gives any power to us.” Crawford is referring to a Texas Supreme Court decision last fall, Texas Riceland Partners vs. Denbury Green-Pipeline Texas. That decision found that “private property is constitutionally protected, and a private enterprise cannot acquire condemnation power merely by checking boxes on a one-page form,” the court wrote.

TransCanada maintains that its condemnation of Crawford’s land isn’t that big of a deal. It tweeted the other week that the company “never takes possession of property” and its “easement [is] similar to ones on title for water, sewer and utilities at a house.”

That isn’t reassuring to Crawford. “I’m scared and sad that indiscriminate digging is going to destroy the [Indian] artifacts,” she told StateImpact Texas. Crawford says she is the only landowner in her country who is fighting TransCanada’s eminent domain condemnation in court. In her county alone, Crawford says there were twelve property-owning entities that had eminent domain used against them by TransCanada, but that all of them have been settled.

“If they show up, I’m going to sadlle my horse and go get my camera and go stand off of their easement and take a lof picutres, I guess,” she says. “That’s legal shooting.”

TransCanada says that the pipeline would have an effect on how property owners can use their land, however. Owners would be “limited to not building permanent structures and deep-rooted trees/shrubs” but that “common farm equipment such as tractors and combines are not a problem,” according to the company.

Why doesn’t TransCanada simply reroute the pipeline around Crawford’s property? It says that option “creates a chain reaction of issues and is not preferred.”

Read the full motion to dissolve the restraining order by TransCanada:


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