What is pipeline fatigue?

There has been a lot of discussion in the past couple years about pipeline fatigue.  I suggest to everyone, including the landowners in the oil patch, that there is no such thing as pipeline fatigue.  But before you tell me I’m crazy, hear me out.

Our firm filed a number of class actions a couple years ago in an attempt to force operators to get their flaring problem under control.  That struggle continues and is a story for another day, but it was shortly after those cases were filed that I started hearing the phrase “pipeline fatigue.”  I believe the first time I heard the term was at a public hearing before the Oil and Gas Division.  The subject of the hearing was the flaring problem, and new flaring regulations.  The talking point I heard at that hearing was that the operators were doing all they could to get pipelines in the ground, but were being held up by landowners with “pipeline fatigue” who refused to grant an easement.  The fact that even industry representatives admitted that less than one percent of landowners actually refused easements on any terms was glossed over.  But at this hearing, and later, in editorials, at other hearings, and at meetings, I heard this phrase over and over again. 

Here is why I do not believe in pipeline fatigue.  Look up the word fatigue in a dictionary, and you’ll find definitions such as weariness, extreme tiredness, sleepiness, drowsiness, and lacking energy.  I have talked to a lot of landowners about pipeline easements lately, and not a single one struck me as sleepy.  Farmers aren’t fatigued, though they may be upset; and they have good reason.  Too many pipeline companies have been able to get away with poor reclamation work, poor soil stripping procedures, poor revegetation practices, and violation of easements.  When these things happen, it is the landowner who suffers – the pipeline company has its pipe in the ground, and the landman is probably working somewhere down in Oklahoma by now.

Personally, I believe that the phrase “pipeline fatigue” is a phrase created by the industry to downplay the real and very serious issues landowners are having with the network of pipelines being constructed around the state.  At recent hearings, some landowners testified to having as many as eight pipelines crossing their property.  I recently reviewed an eminent domain case in which the farmer argued that the highest and best use for his property was no longer farming; it was now running pipelines.  And he won that argument!  With that many pipelines running across a piece of property, it makes it impossible to build on or subdivide a good piece of the acreage.  After the line is in, landowners are often left with land which now has a noxious weed infestation, or lost productivity, or where used to sit native prairie now sits a beautiful stand of cheatgrass.  Landowners are faced with the decision of hiring an attorney and paying attorneys’ fees to review what is almost always a one-sided agreement full of traps for the unwary, or spending the time to negotiate the agreement themselves.  And this is often happening with a landman in the background threatening eminent domain.

My point, however, is that landowners are being asked to sacrifice a lot for these pipelines, and we should not be diminishing the significance of that sacrifice by referring to is as pipeline fatigue, as if that phrase even comes close to capturing the myriad damages, headaches, time, and expense the landowners are dealing with as this infrastructure is developed.

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