CNYOG: Walkin’ the Walk
It’s interesting listening to the information circulating about Central New York Oil and Gas (CNYOG) and the Marc-1 pipeline. Whether it comes from neighbors or the media, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion, and misinformation, about the pipeline and actions taken by the company. I’d like to take a moment to discuss this based on my own experiences with this company, and others, involving pipelines and compressor stations, of which there are three on my property.
First, let me introduce myself. My land has been in the family for generations. I started my career as a dairy farmer but was forced to sell my herd due to hard economic times. I continued farming, barely making ends meet, and when natural gas development started in Bradford County I was at a crossroads where losing this piece of my heritage was a very real possibility. Thanks to leasing my land for far less than many of my neighbors, but well beyond what my family had historically been offered, and the infrastructure that has since followed, I was able to save my farm. Even more than this I was able to appreciate, and provide for my family with that additional stress removed. I took my family on our first vacation, enjoyed some time off with my wife, paid for my son’s college, bought new farm equipment, and paid off our mortgage and taxes. My wife and I still have to work because we chose, without regret, to enjoy the money we received, but now have less worries than we faced before our lease.
A History of Pipelines
My family has a long history of being neighbors with pipeline companies, so our situation is a little bit different than others around us. Back in the 1970s, my grandfather sold thirty acres to El Paso Oil & Gas for the construction of the Tennessee Pipeline. This included a compressor station just up the road from our house. My grandfather faced the same situation being experienced today in negotiating towards a location compromise or having the government enforce eminent domain and not receiving the compensation he hoped for. He described it to me as being similar to a power company wanting to put electric lines across the farm. “You work with them to try to direct where it will go and how much you will be paid or you take what they give you.” Needless to say, in our family, negotiating and reaching a compromise is an important lesson learned from his experience. And has always been our goal.
In the 1990’s, we were introduced to CNYOG when they placed a small metering station on the property my grandfather had sold to El Paso. This was the first time I worked with Randy Parker, the man who is over-seeing the Marc 1 project and has met with many of the landowners affected by this project. While we didn’t have a say in the metering station because it was no longer part of our land, Randy worked with us on a right of way (ROW) for a pipeline that would cross the northern portion of our property. This was the first of many experiences that would build the trust I have in this company today. He even made sure to buy the hay needed for the project from my fields, something the company has once again done with the Marc-1. I no longer charge them for the hay because it is part of getting my land back to a reclaimed state. In all of these years, I can’t say we never butted heads on something I thought was needed, but overall it has been a great relationship.
It’s Not About the Money
Since the 1990s we have interacted with CNYOG on an almost daily basis. When their offices are closed, we allow their packages to be delivered to our house to be neighborly, and if I have a question about something I call and ask. Because of this history, when we were approached by another company to put a compressor station on our land for a gathering system, we held off negotiations to first offer the land to CNYOG for the Marc 1. While gathering systems tend to have higher monetary value for a landowner for us it wasn’t about the money. It was instead about a longstanding trust and desire to work with a company that has proven their worth to us over the years.
CNYOG was not in a place to negotiate ROWs or compressor stations at that time, so we moved forward with selling land to the other company. When CNYOG was ready, we conveyed to them another portion of our acreage directly behind our house and became house #1 on the Marc-1 line. Now our land is home to one of two compressor stations that have been built for this 39 mile line. Ours, the M1-N, will help push the gas through the transmission line to market. It is our understanding the other compressor station, the M1-S in Sullivan County, which is still in the permitting process, received the same compensation as we did because of CNYOG’s desire to keep all compensation for this pipeline equal.
3 Compressor Stations, Really?
With all the information being circulated from the Clean Air Council, one might wonder why we willingly chose to be surrounded by not one, but three compressor stations. First and foremost, it’s because my family, including three boys, have never had any health problems from the compressor station that has been on our property for years. It’s quiet and has never bothered us, we understand the many safety precautions taken, and we knew technology had only improved over time. The three stations combined cannot go above the required decibel levels, and as such, are perhaps quieter combined than in separate locations.
We also felt that if these structures were going to be placed in the county why not have them all together, rather than spread out and changing the landscape in multiple places. As farmers, this was a major factor because it reduces overall impact to the land.
And finally, as I mentioned before, we had a desire to work with CNYOG again, knowing they would negotiate fairly and compromise on any needs we had for the project, which they have done.
Negotiating ROWs: Transmission vs. Gathering
The major source of confusion in all of this is negotiating ROWs for the pipeline. It’s been since the 1970s since any properties in the area negotiated for a transmission line, but since 2005 gathering lines have become a prominent topic among landowners. Gathering lines are privately negotiated, regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and on fair market value can offer a lot more money in a per foot lease. They also do not have the right to file for eminent domain because their purpose is different than that of a transmission line.
Transmission lines cross state lines and are regulated by FERC, on fair market value they don’t pay as much on a per foot lease basis. They also have the right to file for eminent domain because they are taking natural gas from varying companies and multiple sources with the purpose of delivering that gas to a market, placed into distribution systems, and delivered for use.
These differences are something that people do not understand when looking at their lease negotiations with CNYOG. In keeping their policy of being fair to all lessees, they have offered the same amount of compensation for ROWs to each landowner. In our personal experience we have re-negotiated our agreement when others have negotiated and managed to receive anything that may be beneficial to us as landowners. Could CNYOG have come in from the very beginning and had one amount and route and said, “Take it or leave it”? They sure could have, but they didn’t.
Instead, they worked to move around structures, existing and intended, and compromised with landowners on the route within what is granted by the designations in their application. They have also continued to negotiate with landowners to make sure everyone receives the same agreements, despite needing to invoke their right to eminent domain to stay within environmental deadlines set forth in their application.
To delay this project is ridiculous. Two years has been long enough to negotiate. 85% of landowners along the line have granted CNYOG the right of way, and it’s time for outsiders like Earth Justice to understand that this does not concern them. When it lands in their back yard, they can have a say in what they want done on their property. I do not think they have the right to tell me what I can or can’t allow on my property. So let’s get that cutting done, get this pipeline built, and get my land back to a green state I can enjoy and make a living on.