Suit questions constitutionality of oil and gas condemnation law
by Ralph B. Davis
PIKEVILLE — A lawsuit originating out of Knott County could have far-reaching implications for property rights, as well as the oil and gas industries in Kentucky.
A group of 17 plaintiffs has brought suit in Knott Circuit Court against EQT Gathering LLC in October, asking that a state law allowing private out-of-state companies to exercise the power of eminent domain to obtain land or easements for oil and gas wells and transmission lines. Under the law, KRS 278.502, if a company is unable to work out a deal with landowners, it can initiate condemnation proceedings in order to obtain access to land for “constructing, maintaining, drilling, utilizing and operating pipelines, underground oil and gas storage fields and wells.”
The dispute arose over a 160 acre tract of land, upon which portions of the Mayking Node 3 pipeline was constructed. The pipeline carries natural gas from EQT’s Mayking Compressor Station in Letcher County to its Right Beaver Compressor Station in Knott County.
The plaintiffs, who are represented by Hindman attorney Adam P. Collins, argue that the law should be struck down because “it allows private, foreign-owned corporations to exercise the power of eminent domain … without any restriction that the use of this power be for a public purpose or use,” and “it permits private, foreign-owned corporations to take private property without the prior payment of just compensation.”
“In this way, KRS 278.502 permits a private person (or, corporation, in this case) to exercise the power of eminent domain in a way that immediately threatens to ‘compel a citizen to surrender his productive and attractive property to another [foreign] citizens who will use it predominantly for his own private profit, just because such alternative private use is thought to be preferable in the subjective notion of the governmental authorities,’” the complaint reads.
The case has since been removed to U.S. District Court, in Pikeville. EQT Gathering has filed a motion for dismissal, arguing that the issue has already been decided in previous cases.
“This court and the Knott Circuit Court have previously rejected plaintiffs’ efforts to challenge the constitutionality of KRS 278.502 in connection with the facts of this case,” EQT’s attorneys, W. Mitchell Hall Jr., Kimberly S. McCann and Christina D. Hajjar, argue in their motion. “Nothing has changed that would allow plaintiffs to proceed. Accordingly, this action should be dismissed.”
Plaintiffs in the case include Harold Hall, Larry J. Hall, William R. Hall, Mike Hall, Meredith Diane Hall, Arredy Hall, Glenda Hall, Harold O. Hall, Peggy Hall, Jimmy King, Chelsea King, Arretta Hice, Larry E. Hice, Dale Hall, Morris D. Hall, James D. Hall and Judith Hall.
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