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Judge orders removal of gas pipeline on Indian land in Oklahoma

Filed Under: Business | Environment | Law
More on: bia, energy, kiowa, law firms, oklahoma, rights of way

Citizens of the Kiowa Tribe. Photo: Kiowa Tribe

An energy company has been ordered to remove a natural gas pipeline from an Indian allotment in Oklahoma after failing to secure consent from the landowners for nearly two decades.

The owners of the 137-acre parcel agreed to a 20-year easement for the pipeline back in 1980. According to federal court documents, they were paid $1,925 for the right-of-way on a 0.73-acre portion of their property.

After the easement expired in 2000, they were offered $3,080 for another 20-year lease, according to the documents. But a majority of the allotment's owners never agreed to the proposed amount, which they contend was far below market value.

Despite the lack of consent, a firm named Enogex continued to operate the pipeline, which is part of a larger network of gas transmission lines in Oklahoma. The trespass continued even after the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2010 told the company to reach an agreement or stop using the land.

Seven years later, and 17 years after the original easement expired, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange finally confirmed that the pipeline has been in trespass on the allotment. In a 10-page decision issued on Tuesday, she ordered Enable Midstream Partners, which took over operations after Enogex, to remove the pipeline within six months.

Enable Midstream Partners is headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo: Enable Midstream

"Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, and in light of the facts and circumstances in this case, the court finds that a permanent injunction should be entered in this case," the decision stated. "Specifically, it is plaintiffs’ interests in the exclusive possession of their land which has been invaded by the presence of the pipeline and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline."

"Further, defendants have continued to use the pipeline and although they were advised by the BIA on March 23, 2010, more than five and a half years before the instant action was filed," Miles-LaGrange wrote, noting that the lawsuit was filed in November 2015.

"The court finds defendants’ continuing trespass on plaintiffs’ property is clearly not unintentional," she concluded.

The lawsuit was filed by the 38 individual Indian owners of the property. They essentially haven't been paid for the use of their land since the original easement expired in 2000.

The BIA, though, accepted a $1,098.35 payment on their behalf to cover the use of the land from 2000 through 2002. Enable's predecessor firm also apparently paid additional fees from 2002 through 2006 but the landowners said they were never consulted about the amount.

The BIA at one point even approved an easement over their objections but it was reversed after the landowners filed an administrative appeal, according to the court decision. That's what led to the 2010 directive to the company.

Most of the plaintiffs are citizens of the Kiowa Tribe, the Comanche Tribe and the Apache Tribe. They own various interests in Kiowa Allotment 84, which was originally allotted to Millie Oheltoint, whose Kiowa name was Emaugobah.

The landowners now expect to return to court to obtain damages for the trespass of their property, according to attorneys handling the case.

"This decision marks a significant victory for Native American land rights," the Kilpatrick Townsend firm said on Tuesday.

There is one additional owner of the allotment: the Kiowa Tribe. The tribe, though, was not a part of the lawsuit.

Enable Midstream Partners is headquartered in Oklahoma City. Its energy network provides service to customers in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama Florida, Tennessee and North Dakota, according to the firm.

"Our assets include approximately 12,900 miles of gathering pipelines, 14 major processing plants with approximately 2.5 billion cubic feet per day of processing capacity, approximately 7,800 miles of interstate pipelines (including Southeast Supply Header, LLC of which the partnership owns 50 percent), approximately 2,200 miles of intrastate pipelines and eight storage facilities comprising 85.0 billion cubic feet of storage capacity," the firm states in a profile.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners.

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