KXL Pipeline Developer Presses Land Acquisition Despite Federal Block on Project

April 12, 2021, 11:01 p.m. ·

Laying pipe on original TC Energy Keystone project

Progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline halted in January due to a presidential order. Still, the Canadian developers are moving forward with plans to secure rights to lay pipe across private land.

Proposed KXL Pipeline Route (TC Energy Map)

Earlier this year, TC Energy called the attorney representing 65 Nebraska landowners and let them know they intended to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to use their property to build the tar sands oil pipeline. Notice of the plans to hold on to the property rights came in a phone call from the company's lawyers to Brian Jorde, the attorney representing 65 hold-out landowners.

Jorde told NET News his clients were "pretty frustrated, upset and wondering why the state of Nebraska isn't stepping in to stop this"

TC Energy did not respond to our requests for comment.

With an executive order, President Biden withdrew permits allowing the pipeline to cross the border with Canada. TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, announced it would suspend plans to start laying pipe. It did not disclose it was continuing to move forward with acquiring the last remaining property rights along the 270-mile Nebraska route.

"It means they're still fighting this battle," Jorde said. "They're still defending themselves, incurring costs for an easement that's supposed to apply to a project that is, at this point, null and void."

In Jorde's interpretation, the Nebraska law regulating pipelines may not explicitly cover the question of what happens if a project can no longer proceed after being authorized by state regulators.

For the landowners, in Jorde's view, the vagueness in law combined creates an added layer of uncertainly about the future of the KXL pipeline and the company's intentions.

"What could happen is TransCanada, to make a quick buck, could sell or flip the easement," and sell off the project or the pipeline subsidiary to another company. "All of a sudden, the landowner, for the rest of time, will be dealing with someone that they never got to size up (and) never had to say no."

On Monday, lawyers for TC Energy and a pair of landowners in Saline County appeared via video before District Court Judge Julie Smith. These were the latest set of arguments over whether the terms of the easement were legal and sufficient. Similar hearings will go on through the summer in counties along the pipeline's proposed route.

Jorde told the judge his clients might file new lawsuits or take a renewed protest to the state's pipeline regulators at the Public Service Commission.

The attorney for the company didn't address the issue in court.

Ninety percent of the land rights along the pipeline's path in Nebraska have been secured.