Gas-storage proposal mandates property owners know their rights
The Times Herald – Sunday, April 4, 2004
By Darius Dynkowski
Columbus and Wales township residents are right to be concerned about safety. A Connecticut company is proposing a natural gas-storage operation of more than 500 acres that stretches from Weber Road north to Smiths Creek Road.
Just as Bluewater Gas Storage LLC has gone about assembling rights to access the honeycomb of caverns where it wants to store natural gas for its financial advantage, the people living over them should be concerned about their own economic rights as well as about assurances for their personal safety. Their interests in this regard are as basic as any property right assured by the U.S. Constitution.
Actually, there’s a good chance that Bluewater will do right by its new neighbors in Columbus and Wales when it comes to matters of landscaping, property setbacks, lighting and fencing for the underground storage field and the connector to two existing pipelines through the county. State laws, township rules, the concerns of residents and the gas company’s own expertise probably will assure that Bluewater will satisfy most people on those points before the company begins operating the storage network this summer.
Yet, in concluding that Bluewater’s project “will serve the public convenience and necessity,” it’s not clear that the Michigan Public Service Commission adequately took into account the rights of ownership of the people who live above the depleted oil and gas reservoir about 3,000 feet below the Earth’s surface. These rights are the same as if the reservoirs of natural gas that once lay beneath their properties hadn’t yet been tapped, or as if the landowners had discovered gold while panning a creek that ran through their land.
Essentially, the PSC wanted to make sure Bluewater could assemble these properties underground for the convenience of its storage project. The question is whether in serving the “public convenience,” the commission has given short shrift to the individual property rights of the landowners.
These days in Michigan and across the country, there is a growing tendency by units of local and state government to use their powers of “eminent domain” to take properties in the interest of “the public good,” but more and more often they’re trampling on one person’s private interests simply to satisfy the private interests of someone else.
There is a second issue here that is particular to the usage of depleted natural-gas fields for storage of new gas. Often, because of scientific and technological complexities, it is possible for a gas company to ignore some of the economic value that is inherent in a dormant field that is going to be pressed back into use.
It isn’t clear whether Bluewater or the PSC have dealt adequately with these issues related to the private-property interests of the residents who lately have expressed their safety concerns at public sessions about this project. So, it’s up to these Columbus and Wales residents to make sure that their own rights – and all of them — are adequately respected in this process.
Township officials may be able to help, but in the end, it’s incumbent upon each landowner to understand his or her own situation and, if necessary, seek recourse through legal representation by someone who understands the complicated issues.