2017 Harvest

2017 Harvest

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pipeline landowner who sold land for highway not in breach of Statutory Right-of-Way

Terasen Gas Inc. (now FortisBC Energy Inc.) has lost its attempt to draw one of its pipeline landowners into a legal battle with the City of Surrey.  The dispute between Terasen and Surrey relates to Surrey's project to widen a portion of the Fraser Highway.  The highway crosses a Terasen high-pressure gas pipeline, which will require upgrades to permit the widening. 

Terasen expects to be on the hook for at least part of the cost of the upgrades, but contends that the City of Surrey should be responsible.  In addition, as part of an ongoing court case, Terasen claimed damages from Angus Properties Ltd.  Terasen says that Angus, which agreed to sell certain lands to Surrey for the road widening project, breached the terms of the 1957 Statutory Right-of-Way ("SRW") that applied to the lands in favour of Terasen:
In its Amended Statement of Claim filed March 30, 2010, Terasen alleges that Angus was aware of, consented to and cooperated in Surrey’s conduct of the highway project on the Additional Lands, and that Angus was aware of Terasen’s position that the project would interfere with the safe and efficient operation of the pipeline. It says that Angus nevertheless entered into the Purchase Agreement and granted Surrey a licence to enter the Additional Lands to prepare the site, in breach of the SRW. It claims that Angus breached the SRW by permitting Surrey to proceed with the highway project. It says that Terasen has suffered damage as a result, including the pipeline upgrade costs.
Angus brought a motion for summary judgment to strike out Terasen's claim against it.  The Court allowed the motion, finding:
Terasen says that Angus breached the SRW simply by entering into the Purchase Agreement with Surrey, since that agreement removed Angus’s ability to prevent Surrey from doing work on the Additional Lands which would endanger the integrity of the pipeline.
Counsel for Terasen placed some reliance on Terasen v. Utzig, a case with very different circumstances from those here. Angus agreed to sell the Additional Lands to Surrey and to facilitate Surrey’s highway widening project by permitting it to enter the lands for preliminary preparatory work prior to transfer. It did not agree to permit, and there is no evidence that it ever permitted, activities that would reasonably be seen to endanger the pipeline. In contrast, that is what the defendant in Terasen v. Utzig was found to have done.

I agree with counsel for Angus that Terasen v. Utzig, and the other cases upon which Terasen relies, are distinguishable.

I further agree that, as a general proposition, it cannot be the case that the owner of land breaches a statutory right of way simply by granting an interest in the land to another party, unless the terms of the particular statutory right of way so prohibit. The SRW here does not prohibit sale or other transfer of interests in the land. [emphasis added]

I find that Angus did not breach the SRW by entering into the Purchase Agreement.

Did Angus breach the SRW by permitting Surrey to perform its work on the Additional Lands? Angus had granted Surrey a licence to “access, use and enter” the Additional Lands to facilitate “preliminary site preparation, pre-engineering and highway construction” and to “perform such tests as the City deems appropriate, including soil tests”. However, no work was done on the Additional Lands in connection with the highway widening project, by Surrey or any other party, until after the Consent Order of June 30, 2008 had been made. The work was done only after Terasen had prepared the pipeline so that it would not be endangered, and had given permission, in the Consent Order, for Surrey to proceed with the preloading.

Thus, when Surrey actually came onto the Additional Lands and performed the work, it was with Terasen’s consent and it was in circumstances in which the integrity of the pipeline was not endangered. Angus’s failure to prevent Surrey from doing the work, in these circumstances, did not in itself constitute a breach of the SRW.
I find that Angus did not breach the terms of the SRW either by entering into the Purchase Agreement or by failing to prevent Surrey from performing the work on the Additional Lands.
The Court found nothing wrong with Angus' agreement to sell its land to Surrey.  Implied in the Court's ruling, however, is that Angus may have been in breach of the SRW by allowing the preliminary work for the road widening to take place on its lands.  But for the consent for that work already granted to Surrey by Terasen, it is possible that the Court would not have granted the summary judgment motion, leaving the issue of whether or not Angus breached the SRW by allowing for the endangerment of the pipeline to be decided at trial.  That said, the Court found in any event that the damages sought by Terasen were not recoverable in any event because they did not "flow naturally from the breach" of contract alleged by Terasen:
The damages sought by Terasen do not flow naturally from the breach it alleges (Angus’s entering into the Purchase Agreement and removing its own ability to prevent Surrey from doing work on the Additional Lands). If Terasen in the end is found responsible for the costs of the pipeline upgrade, or for more of those costs than Terasen thinks it should bear, that will be a result of the legal framework governing pipeline operators and municipalities, and of the legal relationship between Terasen and Surrey, and not a result of Angus’s entering into the Purchase Agreement.
Read the decision at: Terasen Gas Inc. v. Surrey (City).