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Gas, oil companies claiming eminent domain powers

Oil and gas companies are being allowed in locations across the country to take private properties through the power of eminent domain, even though they are private industries. Eminent domain generally is reserved for the taking of land for the public good.

That could happen in Pennsylvania, where a court that recently heard a case about zoning in regards to gas drilling did not issue a ruling about eminent domain. That means oil and gas companies could use eminent domain to try to gain lands.

Eminent domain typically takes effect when the government needs a piece of property to build things such as roads and schools, and the property owner receives adequate compensation.

The definition of public use has begun to blur, however. In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court said a city could seize private property and pass it to another owner for the purposes of economic development. The oil and gas industry is using this case as a precedent.

One expert said that in the future, it is more likely that an oil, mining or gas company will approach property owners about buying land than the government will. This is especially true in areas where natural resources are plentiful.

Another attorney who works in the environmental law arena said that oil and gas companies want land for things such as laying pipelines. However, as the definition of eminent domain expands, the lines could blur even further, leaving private companies with potentially more leeway to snatch private lands.

The writers of the Constitution sought to protect a landowner's property rights. But it appears that property owners might have a fight on their hands if a private entity wants to buy their land for the "public good."

Source: Beyond Chron, "No Person Shall Be Deprived of Life, Liberty or Property ... Unless the Oil and Gas Industry Says So," Alison Grass‚ Aug. 22‚ 2012

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