That’s Easy: Pay rent

By Nadia Moharib

Lilianne and Michael Leussink have been living and working on their Alberta property for nearly three decades.

But the couple, who run a cattle and wood-lot operation near Sundre, say contending with the pipeline presence on their land often leaves them tiptoeing about.

“We’ve got TransCanada and Mobil and Pengrowth, a Plains Midstream and a Telus line,” Lilianne says. “On one of the quarters there is a Shell pipeline. When we purchased the land, it was just coming in.”

It isn’t always an easy coexistence for landowners and the big companies—and the couple suggests that rent would be a great way to protect land values and compensate Albertans bent over the barrel.

Michael says it’s time for government to step up and level the playing field, so companies can be made to pay some sort of compensation to landowners for their cooperation and the devaluing of their land.

“If you look at a map showing all the lines in Alberta, it looks a like a human body with blood veins everywhere,” Michael says.

"There's so many abandoned wells, it’s scary. They should have been putting money aside for clean-up.”

Not everyone plays fair

Michael says he and Lilianne, who have 12 children and one granddaughter, have always been intent on “getting the most of (dealings with industry) that we could,” given the sacrifices they made to accommodate the pipelines.

“Now, if someone wants to talk to me I want so much an hour for my time or I am not even talking to you,” Michael says. “Sometimes you can spend two hours discussing a line going in or a well – you shouldn’t be doing that without being paid.”

But not everyone plays fair.

When the couple talked to Shell about a sulphur line on their property and tried to get an annual payment out of the company, for instance, it was a no-go.

And now that line is being abandoned.

“They said, ‘If we give you an annual payment then we have to give it to everyone,’” Michael says. “TransCanada does it. There’s not a consistency (among companies). Some are good and others downright arrogant and uncooperative.”

Lilianne says seeing companies pay rent would maintain or even increase property value. And if landowners chose to sell, it would make the ownership transition easier.

It’s “you can’t build here, you can’t build there—if there was a rental agreement then it would compensate them,” she says.

“If there was rent on it then they could say, ‘Okay, you are making money.’ That would be easier. It gives you an option if you sell your property with a rental pipeline though it. It helps everybody.”

‘Sitting like dead ducks’

As it is, Lilianne says she and Michael have felt they were “sitting there like dead ducks” when trying to have their say with pipeline companies. Issues have included a historical well site with contamination on their property and an abandoned pipeline.

The presence of pipelines means the couple have areas of dead land where they can’t build, and pipelines also put more onus on landowners to be careful—by staying clear of the lines or not driving heavy equipment over where they are buried, which isn’t always reasonable.

“Farmers have to haul manure and they are pounding posts—you can’t really put up a decent fence unless you put posts three feet deep,” Michael says. “It’s pretty hard when you have been in the same place since 1960s to pull up your roots and go somewhere else.”

The couple has had some contaminated land cleaned up and the province is now dealing with clean-up after the couple discovered the head of a well just 14 inches from the surface, bringing up the smell of diesel when they drilled into the land about two years after buying the property.

A long way to go

But battles with big oil and gas companies are nothing new. Some of the Leussinks’ property was owned by Michael’s father, who had his own run-ins while trying to contend with companies on his land.

“One company put in a well and pipeline and dishonoured everything they agreed and signed to,” Michael says.

“It was that bad. They ended up getting police involved because the CEO was going to arrest my father because he was going to shut them out.”

While there has been some progress in dealings with pipeline companies, Michael says there is still a long way to go. “It’s a struggle. It’s stressful and they take a lot of our time. Some have a long ways to go,”

The couple says solutions lie in solidarity.

“I think all Alberta landowners need to get together,” Michael says. “We have more power in numbers and we have to join together to force pipeline and oil companies to come to the table to negotiate a reasonable agreement and pay rent on lines. There’s too many lines. It’s getting ridiculous and they should be paying something. It doesn’t have to be outrageous, but they have to negotiate.”

Nadia Moharib is a multimedia news reporter who loves to serve as a voice for an underdog and tell the story behind the story. Always curious, she seeks opportunities to make a difference.


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