Washington D.C.— Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a hearing examining poor treatment of farmers by Cheniere Energy, which owns the Midship pipeline in Oklahoma.
Ahead of today’s hearing, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced a new order that the Subcommittee called on it to adopt during their December hearing on FERC’s failures to protect landowners. Chairman Raskin applauded the order in his opening statement:
“In our Subcommittee’s hearing in December, we pressed FERC to stay its certificates such that a company could not assert eminent domain over a landowner’s objections while the landowners’ appeals were still pending. We learned just last night that FERC has issued a new Order, that does exactly that. I thank Chairman Glick for his work to move landowner rights forward. This common sense and eminently fair practice was long overdue, and I am thrilled that Chairman Glick and FERC have made this change a priority.”
Prior to the hearing, the Subcommittee released a video featuring Oklahoma farmers and their families to illustrate the harm Cheniere has caused to landowners along the Midship pipeline.
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Christopher A. Smith, Senior Vice President, for Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Cheniere Energy; Rob Squires, Landowner Advocate at Squires Consulting, LLC; Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice; and Terry Luber, an Oklahoma farmer whose land was damaged by Cheniere’s pipeline.
Witnesses testified to how Cheniere’s poor treatment of landowners was enabled by FERC until it finally issued an order on March 18 of this year, requiring them to complete restoration by May 17:
- “We were absolutely outgunned as a landowner. They hired the best attorneys,” said Mr. Luber. “It was such a low-ball offer and such quick timing on it. It was so unfair. And it was our decision, my wife and I, that we would go ahead and fight it out.”
- “If there is any takeaway from the above timeline of events, it is that Midship has proven themselves to be a company that is unable to be regulated,” said Mr. Squires. “Not only have they treated the landowners poorly and their lands even poorer, but they disregard orders from FERC time and time again. Even more disturbing is the fact that FERC allows them to disregard its orders with no repercussions.”
Mr. Gedge highlighted the bigger picture issue of private pipeline companies’ ability to use eminent domain to take property away from individual landowners and the need for FERC reform via the Natural Gas Act:
- “This is a national problem. It can take place in any district. Certainly we’re aware of similar issues in Texas, of particular concern to Ranking Member Sessions. At the best of times, eminent domain is disruptive, and is harsh, and often falls hardest on people who lack political clout. And when it comes to pipelines, eminent domain power is a product of Congress and for that reason, the scope of that power and the abuses of that power are, we believe, strong candidates for congressional attention.”
Cheniere’s Smith admitted that the reports from the Oklahoma farmers were “not consistent with the standards that we need to reach in order to make sure that we are operating properly.” He also made a commitment to complete restoration, stating: “We will be fully complying with the FERC order and meeting the deadlines in that order.”
At the close of the hearing, Chairman Raskin committed to exploring legislation to reform the FERC process to better protect individual landowners from billion-dollar energy companies and the federal government.