In Larson v. Sinclair Transp. Co., No 09SC966 (May 21, 2012), the Colorado Supreme Court held that a state statute does not grant a company such as Sinclair the ability to take property for the construction of petroleum pipelines.
The statute, Colorado Rev. Stat § 38-5-105, is not exactly elegant in its wording:
Such telegraph, telephone, electric light power, gas, or pipeline company or such city or town is vested with the power of eminent domain, and authorized to proceed to obtain rights-of-way for poles, wires, pipes, regulator stations, substations, and systems for such purposes by means thereof. Whenever such company or such city or town is unable to secure by deed, contract, or agreement such rights-of-way for such purposes over, under, across, and upon the lands, property, privileges, rights-of-way, or easements of persons or corporations, it shall be lawful for such telegraph, telephone, electric light power, gas, or pipeline company or any city or town owning electric power producing or distribution facilities to acquire such title in the manner now provided by law for the exercise of the right of eminent domain and in the manner as set forth in this article.
Sinclair owned easements across private land allowing it to run an underground gas pipe, but it wanted a second one. After negotiations with the property owner failed, Sinclair attempted to condemn the easement. Both the trial court and the court of appeals concluded it had the authority to do so.
The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, and held that the statute "intended to authorize condemnation for the construction of electric power infrastructure." Slip op. at 5. The court started by applying the narrow rule of construction applicable to eminent domain statutes, which are generally construed against the condemnor, especially in circumstances such as these where the power is delegated to a private entity. The court rejected the argument that the phrase "pipeline company" covered Sinclair since it is company and it "conveys petroleum products through its pipelines." Slip op. at 6.
That would seem to address the issue, no? Isn't a company that relies on pipelines a "pipeline company?" While the court of appeals thought so, the Supreme Court held that the statute contains no definition, but other language in the statute shows that the only companies vested with condemnation power are electric companies ("..and authorized to proceed to obtain rights-of-way for poles, wires, pipes, regulator stations, substations, and systems..."). Neighboring statutes also reveal that the power was only meant for electric companies, and "neither the word petroleum nor the word oil is found anywhere in Article 5 of Title 38." Slip op. at 7.
There's a lot of verbiage in the opinion devoted to how to read a statute, and a long dissent disputing the court's conclusion, relying mainly on legislative history as support. Read them if you are interested. But one question remains: Colorado law seems to have provisions expressly granting all sorts of private entitites eminent domain power for certain purposes, so why doesn't it have anything allowing petroleum pipelines?
Maybe is should. But it currently doesn't, and that was all the court needed to know.