Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Landowner Fights Keystone XL Pipeline By Suing the State

Photo by Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

East Texas landowner Mike Bishop is suing a state agency for allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross his property.

Mike Bishop is fired up. He’s standing with about a dozen protestors and half that many reporters in front of a state office building, waving a lawsuit in his hands.

“It’s beyond me why regulatory agencies and elected officials can’t say, ‘You know what? I made a mistake. I’m so sorry. You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to correct that mistake.'” he intones, slamming his fists.

Bishop is unhappy with how state agencies are handling pipelines in Texas, specifically the Keystone XL pipeline, which will soon cross his land in Nacodoches County.

So unhappy, in fact, that he’s suing the state.

Thursday morning, Bishop filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court against the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates pipelines in the state. The suit alleges that the commission should not have given the Canadian company a permit, and is failing to protect water and safety. He’s also asking for an injunction and restraining order against the commission.

Flanked by members of Greenpeace, Occupy Austin, and other protestors, Bishop railed against what he calls an unfair system that allows private companies to seize land for profit.

“This is our country, not TransCanada’s!” he yelled.

Bishop says he’s tried several times to speak with Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman about his plight, but has received no response.

His conflict with the company began a few years ago, with what he recalls were unwelcome visitors.

“Lemme tell you about that,” he says. “They trespassed on my property. They did not give me notice. They came on my property and told me they had the right to be there.”

It was a surveyor there on behalf of TransCanada, Bishop recalls. Bishops told him to leave, and he says the surveyor responded by telling him they could force him to allow a survey of his land.

“You either get off [my land] now, or I’ll call the law,” Bishop told him.

The surveyor left, but he was soon back.

Bishop’s story mirrors that of several other Texans, like Julia Trigg Crawford in Lamar County and David Daniel in Winnsboro. In Beaumont, a group of landowners were also fighting the pipeline in court, but that case was dismissed by the 9th Court of Appeals Thursday. They say the plan to appeal.

In order to move millions of barrels of heavy oil sands1,700 miles from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, the Keystone XL pipeline needs to move across a lot of privately-owned land, involving some 850 landowners. Not all of them are enthusiastic about that.

In cases where the pipeline and private landowners can’t come to an agreement, the company has used eminent domain to either seize the land or pressure landowners into signing. In a review of county court records earlier this year, StateImpact Texas found over a hundred different cases where TransCanada began eminent domain proceedings against Texas landowners. Now there’s pressure on lawmakers to deal with the issue of pipelines using eminent domain in the upcoming state legislature.

While various landowners file suits and protests across the state, construction on the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma is already well under way in Texas. TransCanada expects the southern portion of the project to be complete sometime late next year.


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