WHEELING - Columbia Gas Transmission LLC is suing two individuals it claims have been interfering with the right-of-way it has on their property to maintain a natural gas pipeline.

Columbia owns and operates an interstate, high-pressure natural gas transmission known as Line 1360, which is located in Marshall County, according to a complaint filed March 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia at Wheeling.

Columbia claims Line 1360 transports large volumes of natural gas to points east, where gas is distributed to tens of thousands of individual residential, commercial and industrial consumers.

Portions of Line 1360 are located upon and across land owned by Roger McCracken and Kathleen McCracken pursuant to a right-of-way agreement between W.H. Chambers and Wife, which are the defendants' predecessors in interest, and Manufacturers Light & Heat Company, which is Columbia's predecessor in interest, according to the suit.

Columbia claims the portions of the pipeline that cross the defendants' property, as well as property owned by Tim Turley and Tamara Turley, are operated and maintained by Columbia for the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce and Columbia has historically utilized the McCracken right-of-way to access the adjoining Turley right-of-way in order to lay, maintain, operate or repair Line 1360.

A seam of coal known as the Pittsburgh seam underlies Line 1360 and the McCracken and Turley rights-of-way, according to the suit, and the coal was severed from the surface estates at a point in time before Columbia's predecessor acquired the McCracken and Turley rights-of-way.

Columbia claims the portion of the coal underlying Line 1360 and the rights-of-way is being actively mined by Consol Energy Inc.

Consol recently advised Columbia that its longwall panels will reach and extract the Pittsburgh seam of coal that underlies Line 1360 and the rights-of-way in early June, and, as a result, Columbia must take immediate steps to protect Line 1360 from mining-induced subsidence that would otherwise result in almost-certain damage to the pipeline and possibly damage the surrounding properties, according to the suit.

Columbia claims it must clear the trees and vegetative growth from the right-of-way; temporarily replace the buried 16-inch steel pipeline with an above-ground six-inch plastic pipeline; and re-bury the pipeline after the predictably controlled subsidence to the surface has occurred.

Columbia notified landowners whose properties are subject to Line 1360 regarding the need to take protective steps and on March 11, contractors for Columbia entered the defendants' property in order to begin to clear trees and vegetation in the McCracken right-of-way, according to the suit.

Columbia claims the defendants have refused to permit Columbia to enter the immediately-adjoining Turley right-of-way via the McCracken right-of-way, despite the express language of the McCracken right-of-way agreement and the parties' historic use of the same.

The McCrackens have also refused to permit Columbia to lay a temporary six-inch plastic pipeline on the surface of the right-of-way until it can be safely buried once the mining under the property is completed, despite the right-of-way agreement and the necessity of doing so in order to protect Line 1360 from rupture, leak, explosion and fire that will likely result from the inevitable mining-induced subsidence, according to the suit.

Columbia is seeking for the court to issue a declaration that the McCracken right-of-way agreement permits it to access the Turley right-of-way via the McCracken right-of-way; issue a declaration that the right-of-way agreement permits Columbia to lay a plastic pipeline on the surface of the property temporarily and take other reasonable and necessary protective measures until the pipeline can be safely buried; grant Columbia a temporary injunction, pending a final hearing, and later, a permanent injunction, that directs the defendants and their agents to cease interfering with Columbia's lawful property rights; and compensatory and punitive damages. Columbia is being represented by Brad A. Funari of McGuire Woods LLP.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia at Wheeling case number: 5:13-cv-39

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