Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas


How Eminent Domain Works in Texas


Texans take pride in the their private property. Over 95 percent of land in the Lone Star State is privately owned. And sometimes, pipeline companies want to use that land for their projects.

Typically a pipeline company will reach an individual agreement with a landowner on compensation, but in the event of a failure to reach an agreement, pipeline companies in Texas at times use eminent domain to “condem” the land needed for their pipeline.

The Keystone XL pipeline has brought the issues of eminent domain and landowner rights in Texas into the spotlight. Some landowners have refused to sign agreements with the company, and in response the company behind the pipeline has filed claims of eminent domain. Over a hundred in Texas.

Some landowners argue that they have no recourse when this happens. A county commissioners court can only assess the value of the land to be condemned, not whether or not the company has a right to seize land in the first place. In short, fighting a company’s claim of eminent domain in court can be costly and time-consuming.

To get eminent domain to route a pipeline across private land in Texas, all a company has to do is check a box on a two-page form to the Railroad Commission of Texas (which regulates drilling and pipelines in the state).

By checking that box, the pipeline company says it is a “common carrier,” i.e. a pipeline that will be available at market rates for other companies to use, and therefore in the public interest.

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