A 17-year battle over a pipeline finally came to an end on March 28, when a federal judge ordered Enable Midstream Partners and associates to remove a natural gas pipeline from 38 American Indian land owners’ property near Anadarko, Oklahoma.
From 1980 to 2000, Enable operated the pipeline on the Plaintiffs’ land on an easement granted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Court found that Enable’s easement expired in 2000, yet Enable continued to operate the pipeline without an easement, putting it in trespass and leading to the filing of the lawsuit.
The court said that, “plaintiffs have objected to the renewal of the easement and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline from the time defendants first sought the renewal of the easement.”
The court also found that Enable and Enogex, who controlled the pipeline before Enable, had failed to comply with any of the federal statutes under which they could have obtained a valid easement.
Peter Schumann, senior biochemistry major, said pipelines, “contribute to a broader habit of using non-renewable sources of fuel,” and that removing such a pipeline might help to reduce that dependence.
Jesse Montoure, senior wildlife ecology major, was concerned that the dependence on these sources of fuel would not decrease with removal, “I see it as a way to put more oil down a different pipeline.”
The history of the pipeline goes back to 1980 when the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved a grant of a .73 acre easement across the southern part of the tract.
The natural gas transmission pipeline was installed in the early 1980s and has been in constant use ever since, but the original right of way expired in November 2000.
In June of 2002, Enogex submitted a new application for another 20-year term easement of the existing pipeline.
Landowners rejected Enogex’s offer in August of 2004. Despite the landowner’s rejection, in June of 2008 the acting superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s Anadarko Agency approved the application for easement.
In July of 2008, 13 of the landowners again rejected easement, while 12 of the 13 wrote the acting superintendent asking that she withdraw her approval of the renewal.
On March 23, 2010, the Bureau of Indian Affairs vacated the acting superintendent’s decision. Five years later, on November 16, 2015 plaintiffs filed the instant action for trespass against the defendants.
The long history of the pipeline marks a huge success for American Indian land rights.
Schumann said that the case might encourage others to fight for the removal of other expired pipelines, but cautions that “Unless there’s an actual legal reason for pipelines to be removed I don’t think they will just start being torn out of the ground.”
Olivia De Valk