In a potentially important recent decision, Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Green Pipeline the Texas Supreme Court has invalidated the use of eminent domain for a private pipeline to be owned by an oil company. Gideon Kanner has some good commentary on the decision here.
In Texas and many other states, public utilities and other “common carriers” have the power to use eminent domain to acquire land for their operations. In this case, however, Denbury, an oil company, sought to use eminent domain for a pipeline that would only transport carbon dioxide to and from its own facilities, without providing any service to the general public. In theory, the public would have the right to use the pipeline, but in practice no one but Denbury would have any reason to do so. The Texas Supreme Court quite rightly concluded that a “common carrier” taking must actually serve the general public, not just the carrier itself:
To qualify as a common carrier with the power of eminent domain, the pipeline must serve the public…. [E]xtending the power of eminent domain to the taking of property for a private use cannot survive constitutional scrutiny. The Denbury Green pipeline would not serve a public purpose if it were built and maintained only to transport gas belonging to Denbury from one Denbury site to another. As a constitutional matter, we can see no purpose other than a purely private one in such circumstances….
We accordingly hold that to qualify as a common carrier of CO2 under Chapter 111 [of Texas law], a reasonable probability must exist, at or before the time common-carrier status is challenged, that the pipeline will serve the public by transporting gas for customers who will either retain ownership of their gas or sell it to parties other than