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What is a Pipeline Right of Way?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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A pipeline right of way is a type of utility easement, allowing for use of private and public property by a utility to run pipelines vital to its operations. The most common example is a right of way for a natural gas pipeline, although other kinds of utility pipelines may be involved as well. This easement is permanently attached to the deed and represents a restriction on the way the land can be used, as the utility needs to be able to access pipes for maintenance and safety, and certain kinds of activities are not allowed on top of a pipeline right of way.

The right of way is a strip of land running across a property to connect it with other pipelines. The strip usually includes enough room to bury the pipes and create room for access. The utility is responsible for installing and maintaining the pipes, as well as addressing any safety issues as they arise. People on the property can usually garden, recreate, and enjoy other low-impact activities on the pipeline right of way.

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Tall trees with extensive root systems cannot be planted there, and it can also cannot be used for storage of explosive or flammable materials. Homes and other structures are not permitted on a pipeline right of way for safety reasons. If the utility needs to access the pipeline for a routine reason, notice is served to give the property owner time to prepare. In an emergency, the utility can enter immediately, and people cannot block access to the right of way with locked gates or walls.

There are a number of ways utilities can arrange for easements. In many cases, they ask permission, work out an arrangement with the land owner, and set up an easement. In others, a utility may file an eminent domain suit, arguing that the abridgment of property rights is necessary for the public good. The court will hear the case and determine its merits. If it agrees with the utility, a forcible easement can be created, requiring a property owner to accommodate the pipeline right of way. In the event that structures need to be relocated, the utility must pay for this, in most jurisdictions.

Usually, a pipeline right of way does not represent a problem for a property owner or tenants. People may go years without seeing utility representatives, and can garden and engage in other activities in the area where the pipes are located. Care does need to be taken when digging and activities like blasting and sinking boreholes are not allowed, with warning signs usually being posted to alert people to the restrictions in the area. People must also disclose the existence of the easement when they sell their property.

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