Power in Numbers
Published: 11 February 2011
This past week I was allowed to sit in and listen to a meeting that attracted close to 70 landowners from eastern Wyoming.
While there was a fresh snow, icy roads and temperatures hovering around zero degrees, the weather was not on everyone’s mind, but rather a proposed pipeline crossing their lands.
This proposed 12-inch natural gas pipeline would run from around Sydney, Mont. to south of Cheyenne and is most likely the result of the new discoveries of oil and gas plays in western North Dakota and eastern Montana – currently the hottest oil and gas play in the U.S.
Pipelines are not new to our state, but for some landowners, especially those in the eastern part, they don’t happen very often. On the eastern side of Wyoming, especially the southeastern section, minerals and wind power are the main topics discussed these days. As with other positive actions in parts of eastern Wyoming, Southeast RC&D Coordinator Grant Stumbough is involved as the go-to guy.
What made last week’s meeting so special was that all the landowners came together to get the best results they could from the pipeline company by joining together as one entity to negotiate the best right of way and surface damage agreement they could. While this action is surely not the demise of the independent cowboy or farmer, it does show these landowners are business people first, and that they care deeply about their lands.
This action, if approved, would do away with the “divide and conquer” method of negotiation that pipeline landmen have forever used. Those who have negotiated deals over pipelines in the past have quickly realized they’re doing business with someone who has left their conscience at home. You know – those who always have to call back to the office because they don’t have the authority to approve any decisions other than to get something for nothing. They’re 10 times worst than a Texas horse trader. This action will bring the top company people to sit at the table with the landowner reps and the attorney, if needed, to look each other in the eye and negotiate an agreement, businessperson to businessperson, or as equals. The companies will soon realize the landowners hold some of the ace cards.
“Dealing with a proposed pipeline is more political than legal,” says Cheyenne attorney Frank Falen, who was invited to speak at the meeting because of his experience with previous and similar interstate pipelines. We found out that the regulations with oil and gas pipelines are different, and that some come from Washington, D.C. and some from the state, but we heard that most are not adequate to deal with reclamation and associated issues. Just ask the landowners between Casper and Wheatland who have always had issues with pipelines. These issues can make life miserable, as one day the pipeliners are there and then they just disappear back to Oklahoma or Texas, never to be seen or heard of again. The weeds, erosion and sand blowouts the following years are just the landowners’ problems.
A roomful of landowners with competent legal and political advice is a powerful tool.