This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website, the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website, The Mercury‘s website and The Phoenix‘s website.
It’s old news that Sunoco Pipeline L.P. is working on its Mariner East project, using an already existing pipeline running across the state as part of Phase I.
Now, after Sunoco, West Goshen Township and the Concerned Citizens of West Goshen Township have signed the settlement agreement papers, the pipeline is starting to move full-swing in the area.
Recently, county residents living within a close distance to the pipeline have received easement documents.
Sunoco Pipeline, which has been a public utility corporation regulated by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission since 2002, is allowed to use eminent domain to secure pipeline easements.
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“We respect landowner rights and take those rights very seriously,” Sunoco said on its FAQs page for the Mariner East project. “We appreciate the enormity of such authority. We exercise this authority, if at all, in very limited cases, cautiously, and only as a last resort when negotiations with a landowner fail and can impede the successful completion of the project.”
Unfortunately for the Chester County residents who received easement notices, this is something they could be faced with.
But, according to Shannon McDonald, an appeals lawyer in West Chester who has knowledge in oil and gas law, residents can have some say in what goes on with their property.
“Easements generally are broadly stated because there is not a clear understanding as to what exactly would be needed,” she said. “Sunoco doesn’t know exactly what it’s going to need. Those easements are likely up for some degree of negotiations, whether that’s negotiation over how far the encroachment is or where the encroachment is or whether a tree can be chopped down or not.”
These easements can also be both permanent and temporary.
Due to the fact easement agreements are legally binding contracts, McDonald recommends property owners should speak with a lawyer.
“They should talk to a property lawyer regarding easement,” she said. “They should review their own deeds and what their records show from when they purchased their property or home.”
Property owners have the right to negotiate terms with Sunoco.
According to Penn State Extension, from the College of Agricultural Sciences, owners may sometimes have a say in the requirement of Sunoco to pay property tax rollback penalties associated with pipeline development on their property; payments for crops, trees and more damaged during the installation of the pipeline; replacement or installation of fencing and gates, with materials specification; and the termination of the lease automatically by nonuse of the installed pipeline for a stated number of days.
“Be sure to get the amount and terms of payments in writing before signing an easement agreement,” Penn State’s report reads. “Many pipeline companies use ‘bank drafts’ that may look like a negotiable check, but often will have stated conditions and limitations that prevent release of funds to the easement grantor.”
In order to help residents understand their rights, a free pipeline easement seminar was held at the West Goshen Township building Tuesday night with two lawyers present to answer any questions the attendees had.
McDonald’s advice to residents who have received easement notifications is to make sure to negotiate and, if possible, speak with a lawyer before signing any documents.
“I recommend anyone who has an easement talk to a property law attorney, as well as trying to find an oil and gas attorney before attempting to negotiate with Sunoco,” she said. “Sunoco is going to be sending their attorneys around and sending their agents around, but those people are not the last say on the subject. Lawyers cost money, but certainly if you’re property and your rights on your property are valuable to you and you’re concerned about it, you should talk to an attorney.”