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David Holland let out an exasperated chuckle as he considered where his family's eight-year-long legal fight has now delivered them: back to the Texas Supreme Court for a second time to fight a company's request to access their land in order to bury a pipeline, which it did anyway six years ago.
“It's an enormous, tangled mess,” he said.
The state's highest civil court has agreed to rehear the case, which could hold major implications for current and future battles between Texas landowners and pipeline operators, though it still may not fully resolve the Holland's convoluted legal saga.
The legal fight began in 2008, when David and James Holland sought to keep a company from surveying their Beaumont-area cattle ranch and rice farm to run a carbon dioxide pipeline underneath. Though the brothers had allowed a few dozen other pipelines to crisscross their property, Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas offered too little compensation to account for the damage it might inflict on the land, they said.
The company swiftly sued and convinced a state district court that its pipeline was a “common carrier” — available for public use — meaning the company was allowed to condemn the land through eminent domain. So Denbury built the pipeline. For six years, it has transported carbon dioxide from the Louisiana bank of the Mississippi River to the Hastings oilfield, south of Houston, where the gas bolsters oil production.
End of story? Hardly.
The Hollands appealed the lower court’s decision all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, and won. Last Friday — nearly five years after a landmark ruling for property rights advocates — the state’s highest civil court agreed to hear the case a second time.
The justices are set to revisit the case as the Texas Legislature is considering whether to tighten eminent domain laws to benefit landowners. Meanwhile, pipeline skirmishes persist across Texas, including Big Bend-area landowners’ long-shot effort to thwart the Trans-Pecos natural gas pipeline through the largely untouched region.
The broadest questions the case asks are these: How much evidence must the company offer that its pipeline is open to others? And when must the company show it?