If you live in Carroll or Jefferson counties, the frenzy of the leasing process is beginning to slow up somewhat, and drill sites are popping up all over the horizon.
Ahhh, finally, we can let out a slow sigh of relief and wait to see what unfolds.
Unfortunately, just when you thought it was OK to let your guard down for a moment and take your lawyer off speed dial, someone is knocking at your door again. You have already signed a lease, hired a third party to conduct water testing on your property, and there are no drill sites within a couple of miles. You ask yourself — what now?
This time, the person knocking at your door is asking for an easement to run pipeline across your property. The request seems pretty straightforward. You know that they have to get this stuff from point A to point B somehow, and a pipeline shouldn’t be too intrusive — after all, it will be underground and shouldn’t affect much.
You already have some really old easements running across your farm fields — you know because you hit the sunken in area with your tractor every time you drive out there. You think to yourself, “Another easement? No big deal.”
But in the back of your mind, you remember someone said at an informational session you attended that easements can be a big deal. So, you tell the man at your door that you will need to speak to your legal counsel first.
When the oil and gas boom first began in Jefferson County, the questions were mostly about leasing, and then about the process itself. As the ground began to be leased up, and the first drill site constructed, questions turned to water testing and erosion.
Now, the questions are beginning to include pipeline easements.
When those pipeline questions crop up, the first thing I tell landowners to consider is putting their legal counsel back on speed dial. Unlike a lease, which can be renegotiated after a specified length of time, these easements are forever. What seems like a simple request today can result in serious frustration later.
In addition to the easement payment, there are many other points to consider, including pipeline location, pressure in the line, your right to use the land and for what, restoration and maintenance once the line is installed … just to name a few.
Yes, you might see your piece of property as farmland 50 years into the future. But if times are hard and you need to sell a piece later, is the pipeline easement across the front of the property going to affect your ability to sell it as a home site if you need to?
If an easement is proposed to go across your agricultural land, your legal counsel might not always have the agricultural background to understand the way in which you use the land or intend to in the future, so it is important for you to outline this and help work it into your easement agreement.
There are a number of additional resources out there to help you collect your thoughts and ensure that the integrity of the agricultural use is protected.
Soil and Water Conservation District staff can walk the property with you to discuss any concerns about the proposed location and current and future land use. We can also provide aerial and topographic maps that show easement widths and routes and sensitive areas.
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Conservation has on its website pipeline standards and construction specifications, that can be attached to easement agreements to help minimize adverse impacts of pipeline construction on agricultural soil and water resources.
Some landowners may feel that putting effort into negotiation of a good easement isn’t worth the effort because a big enough pipeline could fall into the category of eminent domain.
Even if it does, that doesn’t mean that you should be left with unusable ground. Be proactive instead of reactive. Protect yourself, your livelihood and your investment.
The oil and gas industry and all that it brings with it can seem overwhelming at times. Occasionally it overwhelms me personally, and I can see it in the eyes of some of the producers and landowners I work with.
There is so much information and sometimes it feels very difficult to sort through it all. But the information you need to be an informed decision maker is out there.
If you see upcoming programs relating to oil and gas or pipeline easements put on by Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Farm Bureau or the Ohio State University Extension Service — consider attending.
We care about our landowners and producers and are working together not only to help get you the information, but to sort through it all so that you will be able to make informed decisions and protect the soil and water resources on your property.