Landowner seeks fair treatment over pipeline

A Bentley-area farmer whose land is in the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline thinks there’s strength in numbers.

A Bentley-area farmer whose land is in the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline thinks there’s strength in numbers.

George Reid spearheaded the formation of the Joffre to Gilby Landowners Association. Its members own property along a 70-km route that AltaGas Ltd. plans to construct a pipeline through.

Announced in June, the line would carry natural gas from AltaGas’s Gilby Gas Plant near Leslieville to the company’s ethane extraction plant at Joffre.

When Reid was approached about granting a right-of-way through his property, alarm bells went off. He’s had bad experiences with pipelines in the past, he said, and wants to be treated fairly.

“Their contract is so one-sided that the landowners get trod on every time.”

Reid drove along the proposed route and spoke with 40 to 50 of the affected landowners. He suggested that they work together, explaining that energy companies can otherwise play them against each other.

“They get some landowners to sign on and then they go to the others and say, ‘Well gee, your neighbour doesn’t have any objections.’ ”

In the case of AltaGas’s proposal, Reid wants to ensure the compensation is fair. He’s also concerned that the landowners would have to clean up any contaminated soil after the line is abandoned, and that future changes in its operation could adversely affect land use.

“If it ever changes to a sour gas line or something like that, then there would be a setback,” said Reid.

That setback would restrict development over a broader area than contemplated in the initial agreement, he said, without the landowners receiving additional compensation.

Neil Mackie, communications manager with AltaGas, said a change in the use of the pipeline would be very unlikely.

“When you build a pipeline to carry sweet gas you can’t just move it to sour gas, because it’s constructed differently. The instant you start running sour gas through a sweet pipeline, the pipes start corroding and it doesn’t last nearly as long.”

Mackie also downplayed the risk of a leak and contamination.

“We would expect that it would be able to operate for the lifespan of the pipeline without any problems.”

Neil Guay, AltaGas’s director of regulatory projects, added that if his company decided to abandon the pipeline, it would have to apply to the Energy Resources Conservation Board. Landowner consultation would be part of that process.

He added that the last company to operate the pipeline would remain responsible for the cleanup of any contaminated soil, even after abandonment.

As for compensation for the right-of-way, Mackie said AltaGas is proposing a one-time payment that would reflect local land values and the degree of disturbance. The amount is subject to negotiation, but should be consistent for all landowners, he said.

“We have a policy at AltaGas of trying to treat all landowners equally.”

AltaGas said previously that the liquids-rich natural gas to be carried by the pipeline would allow its ethane extraction plant to operate at capacity. Natural gas producers in west-Central Alberta would be able to recover more liquids and earn more for their products, the company added.

The cost of the pipeline was estimated at approximately $100 million, with completion projected for late 2013.

“We’re not against the pipeline,” said Reid. “What we are against is that we don’t get a fair deal on our property.

“We have a volunteer steering committee and we’re doing our best right now to make the landowners aware, and hopefully they will sign on with our group so that we have the strength in numbers to negotiate a more favourable deal for us.”

AltaGas held information meetings at Gull Lake and Blackfalds in mid-November. Mackie said more than 20 people attended each, and the response was generally positive.

“There are always a few people who have additional concerns that you need to address, or answer their questions.”

Reid said the Joffre to Gilby Landowners Association can’t do much until AltaGas has made a formal application to the ERCB.

Mackie said that application should be made in the first quarter of 2013.

“We’re trying to complete the land acquisitions, secure the right-of-way agreements with the landowners, and we’ve started preliminary engineering.”

Additional information about the Joffre to Gilby Landowners Association can be obtained by calling Reid at 403-746-3824.