Judge Orders Enogex to Remove Pipeline from 38 Native American Properties*
By Dominic Bertolami
A federal judge has ordered the energy company Enogex to completely remove its pipeline from the properties of 38 Native American landowners seventeen years after the expiration of an easement. None of native the landowners have been compensated for the company’s use of their land. Now, the pipeline company will have just six months to dismantle and completely remove the structure.
“Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, and in light of the facts and circumstances, the court finds a permanent injunction should be entered. Specifically, it’s the plaintiffs’ interests in the exclusive possession of their land invaded by the pipeline and defendants’ continued use of the pipeline.”
“Further, Defendants have continued to use the pipeline and although they were advised by the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] on March 23, 2010, more than five and a half years before the instant action was filed, that ‘if valid approval of a right of way for this tract not timely secured, Enogex should be directed to move the pipeline off the subject property’.
Many of the landowners, who are mostly citizens of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Tribes, chose not to renew permission for Enable Midstream Partners (Enogex’ successor) to encroach on their private property but the company banked on the fact the ambivalence hasn’t been unanimous.
The original parties were each paid just $1,925 in compensation for the natural gas pipeline to traverse the 137-acres of land. The tense relationship only unraveled from there. Indianz.com reports:
“After the easement expired in 2000, they were offered $3,080 for another 20-year lease, according to the documents. A majority of land owners never agreed to the proposed amount because it was far below market value. Despite insufficient consent, a firm named Enogex continued to operate the pipeline, part of a larger network of gas transmission lines in Oklahoma. The trespass continued even after the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2010 told the company to reach an agreement or stop using the land.”
The BIA proceeded to accept $1,098.35 in payment for the easement from 2000 until 2002. To make matters worse, the BIA continued to accept payments from Enogex through 2006 without consulting landowners about the arrangement. The BIA sequestered the decision from the people whose land would be impacted by the pipeline.
The ruling states:
“Despite the rejection by a majority of landowners on June 23, 2008, the Interim Superintendent of the BIA’s Anadarko Agency approved Enogex’s application for the renewal of the right-of-way easement for twenty years.”
A complaint filed by Indigenous landowners reversed approval. The BIA determined “it didn’t have authority to approve the right-of-way” without the interested parties’ consent.
BIA gave the company notice on March 23, 2010 that, ‘if an agreement satisfactory to all involved parties couldn’t be reached in a timely fashion, the pipeline would need to be moved.’ Because a compromise never came to fruition, the court held the pipeline operator has been trespassing on private land since that date and striking down arguments from the defense.
For a federal judge to rule the energy company’s removal of an operational pipeline from the property of Native American landowners starkly contrasts approval by officials for completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite a monumental and months-long up swell of hundreds of thousands standing in opposition.
With six-month window to disassemble and evacuate, for now the federal court is forcing Enable Midstream Partners to limit in its exploitation of Indigenous Peoples.