It has become a common occurrence in Eastern Ohio to see oil and gas related pipelines being installed through pastures and crop fields. While many sections of these lines are installed and reseeded to the farmer’s satisfaction, some are not. Lately, I have been asked by farmland owners and contractors alike to assess the reseeding success of individual sections of right-of-ways. Below are some ideas which I hope will curb some of the incidents I have noticed.
Above all, have the document prepared by your attorney addressing the farm needs and reseeding. Too many times landowners are attempting to negotiate a potentially lifelong contract without legal advice.
Identify the location and width of the temporary work area and pipeline. Landowners may want the pipeline company (referred to as the grantee) to provide a plat depicting all portions of the construction and installation operations permitted under the easement. It would also be helpful to the farming operation to identify the construction time period while ensuring it does not exceed the negotiated number of days to complete. Of course, landowners wanting their farm reclaimed to specific standards will also need to define the consequences for noncompliance with the contract terms. One document that provides specific guidance on farmland reclamation is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil & Water Conservation "Pipeline Standard and Construction Specifications". As the landowner, you may want the final say as to the completeness of the reclamation project. This means the landowner needs a company contact name and number to consult during the process. Landowners will also need to define entry and exit points, types of gates to be utilized. In addition, establish who is responsible to maintain the gates and fence. Farmers may need a defined area for crossing the pipeline even when under construction. It is possible, surface water such as springs, ponds and streams may be impacted and the farm owner may want to include in the agreement the remedy for such impact. Any of these items not in writing will be difficult to enforce.
Landowners may want to describe in their contract, what locations and forages are to be seeded, the seeding method to be used and seeding rates. It may also be helpful to provide a description on how the area is to be mulched and what water diversion practices will be installed. Water diversion practices such as silt fences and water bars can be quite an obstacle when mowing and/or clipping. Identify, once vegetation is established, when and whom will be responsible to remove these items and reclaim these areas. Crop yields and timber will be impacted, possibly for years. Part of the pipeline negotiation settlement should take all crop damages for multiple years into account. It is possible that the disturbed pipeline will become weed infested or experience erosion. If this occurs, what procedure is to be followed and how soon? Proper weed control is an occasion sensitive practice that is best accomplished in a timely manner. Although not recommended, some farmland owners may have lumped all “appurtenances” such as but not limited to, drips, valve, piping and metering equipment under one document. All of these structures may need fence, some kind of reseeding and long term weed plans.
The landowner may also want to retain and reserve the right to continue to enjoy use of the surface of the easement for any and all purposes, provided they do not interfere with or prevent the pipeline company use. It may be important to landowners to reserve the right to build and use the surface of the granted easement area for drainage ditches, roads, gardens, lawns, grazing, plantings and crops. It may also be important to some farm operators to reserve the right to construct a private or public road across the easement as the farm expands or in support of the current operation.
The scope of a pipeline company’s activities on the easement may impact the farm operation and therefore could be described and limited in the right-of-way grant. For example, if no hunting, fishing, loitering, lodging, camping, or similar activities by the grantee or its contractors or guests are permitted, be sure to have your attorney add this to the document. Parking of vehicles, trucks or other equipment necessary for construction may also be limited to the period of construction if likewise described in the agreement. For some farms, preserving esthetics is important and they may not want the easement area to be used as a storage area or staging area. If not, this should be agreed to in writing.
Finally, nothing lasts forever. Some landowners may want to describe what triggers the end of this agreement. To eventually clear the farm title of this encumbrance, landowners may want to consider only granting the use of the easement for a specific term. In addition, carefully consider any language in the easement agreement that purports to give rights to the grantee in perpetuity or exclusively.
We have only begun to describe a few points on how pipelines impact pastures. For more landowner related information go to The Ohio State University (http://serc.osu.edu/extension) web site. Never sign anything without talking to your attorney and remember to put everything in writing.
Written By: Clif Little, OSU Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources Educator Guernsey County