HOUSTON (AP) — The ruling came down in a brief, late-night email, 15 words that slammed the yearslong effort of a Texas landowner to prevent a Canadian company from occupying part of her family's 65-year-old farm to run an oil pipeline from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.
As shocking as the ruling was, Julia Trigg Crawford, the third-generation manager of the Red'Arc farm in Direct, Texas, vowed Thursday to fight on, just hours after Lamar County Court-at-Law Judge Bill Harris ruled TransCanada could be considered a "common carrier" and use eminent domain to condemn a section of her land for the Keystone XL pipeline.
"It's kind of like there's a bully in the playground and until someone gets their nose bloodied they will keep going," said Crawford, already on her way to Washington.
TransCanada welcomed the judge's decision.
"This ruling reaffirms that TransCanada has — and continues — to follow all state and federal laws and regulations as we move forward with the construction of the Gulf Coast Project," spokesman Shawn Howard said in the statement.
The ruling is the latest legal victory for TransCanada, whose plan to transport heavy tar sands crude through a 1,179-mile pipeline across the United States to Texas Gulf Coast refineries has been mired in controversy nearly every step of the way.
Environmental groups insist the tar sands crude is dirty and argue that the U.S. government should reject the project. The proposed pipeline requires State Department approval because it crosses international boundaries.
The Keystone project took a political tone when Republicans in Congress forced a two-month deadline on President Barack Obama to sign off on the international pipeline. Obama rejected TransCanada's proposed route earlier this year, suggesting it direct the pipeline around a sensitive aquifer in Nebraska's Sandhills region. But he encouraged the company to pursue in the meantime a shorter project from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.
That shorter project, which would eventually tie into the Keystone XL, doesn't require presidential approval. Construction on that pipeline began earlier this month.
The Crawford family battle began in 2008, when TransCanada asked for permission to run the pipeline through the farm. As they had done in the past when other oil companies asked to do the same, the family refused, assuming that like the others, TransCanada would simply reroute the line a few hundred yards to a more willing neighbor's property.
Instead, TransCanada used eminent domain to condemn a piece of Crawford land.
The court's ruling late Wednesday, however, will not stop the Crawfords, who remain determined to prevent TransCanada from using their land. The family hopes its fight will stop other powerful oil and gas companies from taking similar steps in the future.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which approves pipeline projects, allows companies to simply check a box on a form stating they are a "common carrier," meaning the project is for the good of the public, Crawford said. This designation gives the company the right to condemn private property.
Crawford, who is considering appealing to a higher court while also taking her fight to the state Legislature and Washington, argues that TransCanada — a foreign company that will profit from transporting the crude — is not a common carrier.
"You lose control of a piece of land, they can tell you what you can and can't do, they can sell your property ... for $20,000," Crawford said, noting TransCanada eventually upped an initial monetary offer of $5,000 to $21,000 for the tract that they want.
"But it was never about the money," she said, noting the family farm is littered with pottery, arrowheads and other archaeological items of historic value.
"It was always about the protections we wanted for our land, the protections we wanted for our water, the protections we wanted for our artifacts," she said.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP