Va. Supreme Court on March 7, 2016, Refuses to Hear Appeal on Va. Law Allowing Natural Gas Pipeline Surveying without Landowner Permission

On March 7, 2016, the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling in a lawsuit by Giles County residents challenging Virginia’s law allowing pipeline companies to survey private property (for route location or regulatory requirements) without landowner permission.  In July 2015, the plaintiffs in the case had refused access to their property to survey workers for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, which Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC is proposing to build from West Virginia to a connection at Chatham, in Pittsylvania County, Va., with the existing Transcontinental, or Transco, pipeline (which runs from Texas to New York).

In 2004, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 663 (now Va. Code Sec. 56-49.01, Chapter 829), which gives natural gas companies the right to do surveys or other tests on private property even without the landowner’s permission, provided the landowner is given required legal notice.  The Giles plaintiffs argued that that amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of private property, but the argument was rejected in August 2015 in Giles County Circuit Court, and the Va. high court’s refusal to hear the case allows the Circuit Court ruling to stand.

As of March 2016, the Mountain Valley Pipeline proposal is still being considered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC; docket number is PF15-3; access to project documents are available online at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ferconline.asp.

For more on natural gas developments in Virginia since 2014, including the several current gas pipeline proposals, please see the Water Central News Grouper post, Potential Natural Gas Drilling and Transport in Virginia under Close Scrutiny in 2014-16.

Sources: Mountain Valley Pipeline gets court orders affirming right to survey without owner’s permission, Roanoke Times, 3/8/16; and Pipeline foes argue property rights at Va. Supreme Court, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/16/16

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