This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guest Robert Latimer of Right Way Land & Compliance discussing the pipeline land acquisition and local permitting process in Canada and the U.S.
In this episode, you will learn about the role of a Land Agent helping advance pipeline projects, the importance of understanding the people and culture affected by pipeline projects in their community, the need to convey critical information about pipeline safety and leak detection, and much more.
Pipeline Land Management: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Robert Latimer is the Principal / Sr. Consultant of Right Way Land & Compliance. Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.
- Right Way Land & Compliance is a private consulting venture, ready to engage clients to achieve results on project non-environmental permitting, land acquisition, stakeholder outreach, and regulatory compliance.
- Pipeline Permitting is the process of applying for permission from various jurisdictions to install a pipeline over a certain area of lands governed by that given jurisdiction.
- Keystone Pipeline is a large-scale pipeline system designed to transfer oil from Canada to Texas. The fourth phase of the project, Keystone XL (KXL), became a hot-button, divisive issue in the past decade, leading to a Presidential Permit denial in 2015. The expansion was approved in 2017 by the Trump Administration.
- Land Agents in Canada negotiate various types of land-use agreements and right-of-ways with private landowners. They are also involved in communicating with stakeholders about project information that will affect the community.
- Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is responsible for regulating the oil and gas life cycle in a manner that protects public safety and the environment in the province of Alberta, Canada.
- Historically, the National Energy Board (NEB) was an independent economic regulatory agency created in 1959 to oversee oil and gas activity internationally and between provinces in Canada. The government-appointed agency was located in Calgary, Alberta.
- Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) is the new name of the NEB appointed by the Canadian government to license, supervise, regulate, and enforce laws regarding international and intra-province oil and gas activity. The agency was enacted in August 2019. The CER is also headquartered in Calgary.
- FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is the United States federal agency that regulates the transmission and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas in interstate commerce and regulates the transportation of oil by pipeline in interstate commerce.
Pipeline Land Management: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 156, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance and operations software for the pipeline control center, recently releasing ComplyMgr software to streamline audit readiness. Find out more about POEMS at enersyscorp.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is Dan Rowe with NiSource. Congratulations, Dan, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Robert Latimer is joining us to talk about land management and pipelining. Robert, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Robert Latimer: Thank you, Russel. It’s good to visit with you.
Russel: We brought you here to talk about right-of-way and permitting in land and all that kind of stuff. Before we jump in, would you mind giving us a little bit about your background and how you got into the pipeline world?
Robert: Yeah, sure. Russel. I’m originally from Alberta, Canada. I grew up in the west central part of the province, an area focused on a lot of oil and gas activity, coal mining, and so on.
When I graduated out of high school, I went and did some surveying. It was a little too cold in the wintertime to do that, so I gravitated towards a two-year program in an ag college in Alberta to take a land agent program.
I became a land agent for a large provincial pipeline system at that time. It was called NOVA Gas Transmission. It’s the gas gathering transmission system, bringing all the gas from receipt stations, some 900 of them in Alberta. The gas was used for export and then within the province as well. I spent probably four years in the field as a land agent, supporting regional operational teams.
That was a lot of fun; did a lot of traveling. I graduated into doing operational leadership type roles in a number of different locations on pipeline maintenance type crews and so on. I did that for a number of years and then ended up leaving that company, which was, at that time, became TransCanada.
I started my own small business, doing some land consulting work, supported a client. The city of Medicine Hat, of all places, has a gas utility. That’s where I lived, and I supported them on their infill well drilling program, pipeline program.
Fast forward from there, I ended up relocating to the States. My wife happens to be an American citizen, moved to the State of Oregon, and went to work for what was that at that time called PG&E Gas Transmission Northwest to Canadian gas to markets in California and the Pacific Northwest as well.
I was a land and community relations supervisor, managing relationships primarily in Oregon but also in Southeastern California on their North Baja Pipeline System. I did some different things there.
I transferred eventually to Omaha, Nebraska to work on what was called the KXL Pipeline Project at that time in 2008 and spent the last 12 years on and off that project, doing a wide variety of different roles when I wasn’t on the project. Then, I subsequently retired from TransCanada in June and started my own small business, Right Way Land & Compliance Services.
Russel: Pretty much an entire career working in land issues around pipeline. You use the term several times Robert, land agent. Maybe, you could tell us, what is a land agent?
Robert: Sure. Russel. Land agent, it’s a generic term. In the province of Alberta, it’s a licensed qualification. If acquiring rights from landowners for pipelines or well and gas wells or power lines, some other type of infrastructure, you have to have a land agents license.
Land agents are really an agent for an organization or a company that has an interest in picking up a surface lease, an easement for infrastructure. Those can be non-energy type infrastructures, pipelines, power lines, or water lines.
Land agent is a generic term for the individual, be the guy or gal, that goes out and picks up the rights from the landowners in the form of land documents and easements/leases for the client, be it an energy company or whoever.
Russel: Robert, I think most people would know what a real estate agent is. How is a land agent different than a real estate agent?
Robert: Real estate agents are typically credentialed through the real estate commission. There’s very detailed rules on what they can and can’t do in that type of work. Land agents are more facilitating the acquisition of land interest on an easement or leases for a client. They’re acting as an agent for the client.
In some states, they have to be credentialed through the real estate commission. Some states, not. Some states are. The rules don’t speak to it.
Russel: I guess the way I would see it is a real estate agent typically is dealing with a plotted piece of ground. I’ve got a piece of ground. I’m transitioning ownership. Where a land agent is more dealing with ground that isn’t plotted, and they’re getting it plotted. Often, they’re not transferring ownership. They’re just getting a right to use.
Robert: That’s correct, Russel. You’re acquiring an interest in land that the land is not changing hands, so to speak. You’re simply acquiring that interest in land for an exchange of consideration. Those rights are recorded on title and so on.
Russel: Exactly. You’ve been doing land work in pipelining for a while. I just say it that way, for a while. [laughs]
Robert: Yeah, on and off, 29 or 30 years roughly. I started in the business in 1989 in Alberta, Canada. Again, some of my work experience was outside of land, per se. I’ve always come back to it as my career went on.
Russel: How have you seen how landowners view pipeline owners coming in looking for access versus when you started your career? How has that evolved over your career?
Robert: What’s interesting, Russel, in Alberta, with the widespread footprint of natural gas gathering pipeline systems and so on that I worked on initially, people had a general understanding pipelines were needed to move this commodity across the province. There was more acceptance and understanding.
You still had to work through issues and questions with people, but there wasn’t a lot of commotion about acquiring pipeline right-of-ways and so on. Certainly, you had some characters you had to deal with, and that’s always going to be that way.
I would say if you fast-forward now to new greenfield projects, it’s become politicized, depending on the size of the project for all kinds of reasons. People are somewhat wary. I’m generalizing about the infrastructure and what that looks like.
Agents have to be really good at building rapport and understanding with landowners and the tenants on that property as well to have them understand what’s coming or what’s proposed.
Russel: They often don’t really understand what’s going to happen, what the risks are, what their duties are going to be, and what the pipeline operators’ duties are going to be. There’s a big education, I would assume?
Robert: Yeah, exactly. That’s where I’ve seen, in the last 10, 12 years, agents have to be really sharp in regards to explaining the nature of the project that’s coming, why the need, the type of regulatory review, even sometimes the economics of the project.
You have to be able to speak to it in a very transparent way and help people understand the facts because there’s misinformation out there as well, right?
Russel: Oh, yeah. No doubt, there’s a lot of that these days. I want to talk a little bit about…You’ve talked about starting your career in Alberta. Then you talked about later working in Oregon.
I have family that lives in the Portland area. I was up there. They were asking me, what do I do? I told them. I asked a question, “Well, do you guys have many pipelines up here?” They’re like, “Oh, no, no. We don’t have any pipelines.”
Russel: I want to ask a couple of questions here. One, how is the U.S. different than Canada? Then I’m going to follow that up with, how is an area where they’re familiar with oil and gas different from an area where they’re not familiar with oil and gas?
Robert: A couple of really overarching things. In the province of Alberta, where I grew up, there was quite a footprint of oil and gas activities throughout the province, thousands of miles of pipeline crisscrossing the province, familiarity with that.
The province had a number of regulatory bodies that looked after access to surface rights for a variety of infrastructure. There were very prescribed rules for that. There was also a provincial energy regulatory body that had prescribed rules for how projects are permitted and so on.
At the federal level, for projects, pipeline, energy, power line type projects that crisscrossed provinces, you had what was historically called the National Energy Board. Now, there’s a new acronym for that. I believe it’s the Canadian Energy Regulator. You’d have to check that. That entity provides guidance and rulemaking for energy projects that cross provincial boundaries, essentially.
Russel: For us Americans, that’s state borders. [laughs]
Robert: Exactly. That’s right. I would say very generally, in Canada, there’s more of a prescribed roadmap of rules and regulations on how to permit and proceed with your project, whether it’s oil, gas, electric power line for export or what have you.
In the States, of course, you’ve got FERC, who manages the interstate natural gas siting and all that goes with that. When it comes to like an oil pipeline that crosses a number of different states or an international boundary, FERC doesn’t play any significant role in that other than maybe some tariff type stuff, I guess.
You run into different…It’s the state siting processes and then federal permits that you need for crossing water courses and so on. It’s more of a mix of state permitting type processes that will vary and then some federal oversight on nationwide permits for water courses and so on, or, if you cross an international boundary, it’s the Department of State issues the presidential permit.
Russel: I think simply stated is the Canadian market is less complex than the U.S. That’s what I take away from what you’re telling me.
Robert: That would be very simply stated. My Canadian friends would probably have lots of opinions on what they think is more simple, in their definition…
Russel: Often the thing that’s more simple is the one you know the least about. [laughs] That’s also certainly been my experience. What would you say that land agents have been doing to improve their ability to serve the landowners as they’re doing right-of-way acquisition?
This is a sidebar conversation, really, Robert, a little bit. If you think about the resistance that a lot of people have the pipelines, because of their preconceived notions or misinformation or whatever, oftentimes the people that are coming head to head against that resistance are the land agents and the pipeline operators, the guys in the trucks that are actually running the pipeline.
Those are the ones that tend to be the folks that are in contact with the landowners. What has changed? What’s happening in that domain to help people do a better job with the landowners?
Robert: The foundational expertise of a good land agent has always been to build rapport with landowners and tenants on land that’s going to be crossed by a proposed project. That foundation of rapport building, you still absolutely need that.
A good agent needs to be really sharp in regards to the type of pipeline that he’s seeking the rights for, whether that’s a natural gas pipeline, an oil pipeline. Maybe it’s some sort of hazardous liquid pipeline, anhydrous, an ethylene line, or what have you.
The agent has to be really sharp in regards to not only the easement agreement that you’re presenting and the compensation formula that goes with that, but the agent has to be very sharp when it comes to the industry that you’re representing and the way that that system’s going to be operated and all that goes with it.
Even into the future, here’s how we’re going to handle future issues on the land, reclamation type issues and so on. You have to be able to address the questions, not just a few questions. Landowners, these days, have a lot of questions.
They’re not just compensation questions. It’s questions on what happens in 50 years when you don’t have to use this pipeline anymore. You have to be able to articulate things like abandonment, what that looks like. What’s the company’s stance on that? What’s the industry’s stance on that?
Russel: What happens if you have a leak? How do I let you know if I think something needs to be done? If it’s around farmland, can I farm over the top of the pipeline? All kinds of questions.
Robert: Absolutely, Russel. Your point about what happens if there’s a leak. In this industry, there are leaks that happen. You have to be able to, again, speak intelligently. Here’s how the operator responds. Here’s the effort that goes into the response to make things whole again, even with the landowners, with the local county officials, and so on, once a clean up is complete.
Russel: It’s interesting. I’d never really thought about this, Robert, before we had this conversation. One of the things you’re pointing out is that to be a good land agent and deal with the landowners, you’ve got to be a really good pipeliner, very knowledgeable pipeliner, for sure.
Robert: People pay attention to when an incident does happen on a system, whether it’s the operator you’re representing or not. Because incidents get a lot of press time, and rightly so, if you’re sitting down to talk to someone about a major pipeline system, gas, oil, whatever, the people, they’re going to pay attention to that.
You need to be able to respond in a transparent fashion using information that’s online or that the operator provides you or what have you.
Russel: Following this train of thought, you mentioned how there’s federal level permitting, there’s state-level permitting, there’s waterway permitting, and such.
One of the things that I would suspect happens in the U.S. — I certainly wouldn’t have any idea what happens in Canada around this — is that you even get down to local jurisdictions and in some cases even interested third parties, where that land acquisition and those relationships, it’s not as simple as the single landowner, I guess is what I’m trying to drive at.
Robert: Very true, Russel. Dealing with landowners is absolutely critical. Dealing with stakeholders, those that are beyond just the landowners, is as equally as important as the landowners. I view stakeholders as the local county officials where the pipeline’s crossing through.
Maybe, it’s the local county officials where you need a haul route. You might not even be building any asset through a certain county, but you need to use some county roads in a haul route for a major project. They’re stakeholders.
Dealing with local officials is something, over the last couple years, I’ve had a lot of experience with, particularly in South Dakota and Nebraska. It was on the KXL Project.
You have to put as much effort into dealing with the local jurisdictions, the county commissioners, the road superintendents, the planning and zoning people, and so on because they’re on the sharp end of the stick, so to speak, when it comes to the feedback that they get from their constituents, the people that live there.
Russel: They’re going to hear about it. I’m doing air quotes right now. That’s really handy on a podcast, doing air quotes.
Russel: They’re going to hear about it first. Whatever it is, they’re going to be the first ones to hear about it. If people are unhappy with what’s going on, they’re going to go to the county officials or the city officials first.
Robert: The operator I previously worked for, we would…These are all open meetings. Counties work in an open, transparent fashion. You have to get on the agenda. Your agenda item is publicized. Anybody can come to those meetings and put their two cents in or quiz you on that stuff.
You have to be as sharp as you are with dealing with landowners as you are in dealing with local county officials and even more so because it becomes in the public realm. In some cases, depending on the sophistication of the county, some of the meetings I’ve been at, in South Dakota, for instance, you end up being on YouTube.
Actually, that’s how they record their meetings. It’s on a YouTube clip. You can watch yourself the next day. It’s kind of interesting.
Russel: That could be a little disconcerting.
Robert: I’ve had someone in a meeting in South Dakota really give me the business on what he thought his opinion was on the project. That’s there for everyone to see the next day if they want.
Russel: Oh my goodness. [laughs] I can relate to that. I can relate to that, very much so. For you, just personally, what are some of your key learnings, as you’ve done this through your career, to really be effective at that local level?
Robert: With local county officials, what I’ve found is you really have to make an effort to travel the long distances to show up to their meetings and maybe even show up when you’re not on the agenda to get familiar with who the players are, the type of meeting they run, who are the decision-makers, how strong is the chairman.
You know what, Russel? To no surprise, sometimes what you find is the real power in a county government might be with the county clerk.
Robert: It’s a gal or a guy or what have you. They’re the ones that prepare the agenda and so on. It’s doing your homework before you show up with some type of meaty agenda item that you want to get some type of decision on.
It’s working it behind the scenes a little bit to be well prepared when you go forward. Sometimes, that should be investing the personal time upfront, before that meeting happens, to get to know those people.
Russel: That’s very well said. My first assignment in the military … I’ll never forget this. I had one of the senior civil servants. As I was getting ready to rotate out of that assignment and go to my next assignment, he carved me out and had a little sit down over a cup of coffee and said, “Russel, one of the things you need to learn is whenever you show up at a new organization, you need to understand what’s the official chain of command and what’s the actual chain of command.”
Robert: That’s very true.
Russel: Those are often not the same thing. You do not want to get sideways to the actual chain of command. Not a good idea. [laughs] To not get sideways, you first have to know what it is and how it operates.
Robert: You’ve got to invest the time, Russel. I guess that’s what I’m saying.
Russel: That’s exactly right. You’ve got to learn the people and build the relationships. That’s really what we’re saying here. Exactly. If you were going to give advice to a younger land agent in the pipeline world, what additional advice would you offer to that person?
Robert: It’s building that technical acumen, so to speak, on the real estate rules in the respective state that you’re working in. Understand the technical part of the compensation related to your easements. Understand the easement documents that you’re using.
Beyond that technical land type stuff is understanding the operator that you’re representing. What is their track history? What are they doing in the community to give back, perhaps? How many operational staff do they have typically in that state working on pipeline systems that are citizens of that state?
It could be the type of product and what happens when there’s a leak and how quickly companies can respond to that. Young agents should be building their expertise. You don’t have to be a super expert.
You just have to be able to speak intelligently or commit to people, landowners, commit to landowners, “Let me go away and get you the right answer, and I’ll get back to you.” Don’t try and buffalo people. Just let people know that, “Hey, I don’t have an answer to that, but I’ll bet the operator or the company will provide me an answer. Let me get back to you in a couple days or whatever.”
It’s that demonstrating to people, that “Let me work on this, and I’ll get you the answer,” or “Hey, I just learned this yesterday. Let me tell you how this works. Let me show you on the company’s website. Let me show you this report or what have you.”
Russel: Oftentimes, what I try and do, Robert, as we wind up a conversation is I try to get it down to two or three two key takeaways. I have four, the first being just know the land agent part of the job cold, know the contracts, know the compensation, etc.
The second one is take the time to know the people and the culture. If you do much traveling out of the big cities around this country, there’s a lot of cultural difference between communities. Frankly, that’s one of the things I love about our business.
I love that stuff. I want to know about it. Why do you all listen to that kind of music? Why do you do that kind of dance? Why do you eat that kind of food? Let me try that. I want to understand. I want to know. I want the experience. People appreciate that, by and large, getting to know the people and their culture and their neighborhoods.
Robert: You’re absolutely right. I’ve made some great friends in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota because I enjoy visiting with them and getting to know their community a little bit. It’s cool.
Russel: That’d be the second one. The third one is know pipelining, know how pipelines operate, how they operate and maintain their assets, and how they ensure that they’re run safely and over a long period of time. Then lastly, when you don’t know, and oftentimes you’re not going to know, confess it and say, “Look, that one I don’t know.” Go get the answer and come back.
Robert: Absolutely. Operators or companies will absolutely want to equip you with the right answer.
Russel: If you think about it, Robert, this advice would be great advice for anybody in pipelining. It’s “know your job, know the people you’re working with and serving, know the business.” When you don’t know, find out and come back. Somebody should turn that into a meme or a poster on the wall or something.
Russel: That’s pretty dang good right there.
Robert: You should do a podcast on it.
Russel: [laughs] I think we just did. Oh, that’s great. Robert, this has been awesome. I really appreciate your time. I have learned a ton about what land agents do. It sounds like a fun job.
Robert: It can be really fun, Russel. Absolutely. I’ve enjoyed the last 29, 30 years of my career. I’ve got lots of years left to work at it. It’s a great way to make a living.
Russel: Great. Thanks for being our guest. I look forward to running into one of the conferences when we’re let back outside.
Robert: Absolutely, Russel. I would look forward to that as well. Thank you.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Robert. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinepodcastnetwork.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
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Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords