United States: Unbounded Interests: The Limits Of Blanket Easements

Originally published by Pratt's Energy Report

Blanket easements affect the use of burdened land and the rights of both landowners and easement holders. This article examines the various trends that have begun to emerge as states decide whether to invalidate, uphold, or limit the scope of blanket easements. It then discusses the implications of each trend, with an eye to the interests of utilities and infrastructure developers.

Historically, it was not uncommon for utilities and other infrastructure developers to obtain from landowners blanket easements that allowed improvements to be located anywhere on the subject property. However, as time passes and property changes hands, conflicts may arise between a landowner's plans for their property and the broad rights created by a blanket easement. For example, the landowner may seek to change the use of their property, or the infrastructure owner may try to exercise its blanket easement rights to change the installed facilities or their location. For utilities and other infrastructure easement owners, attempts to limit the broad scope of a blanket easement may stilt their long-enjoyed—and often necessary—use of the land.

States have slowly begun addressing the question of how to balance these interests. Some states disfavor blanket easements and have passed statutes limiting their applicability. Most states refuse to entirely invalidate them, while still recognizing that justice may require limits on easement rights. Such states attempt to fix the easement's location based on one of three inquiries: the original intent of the parties, the area reasonably necessary for use, or the prior use of the parcel. This article examines the application and implications of these trends.


First, recall that an easement is an interest in another person's land which permits the easement holder to use or control the land for a specific purpose. Easements may grant a right to place or keep something on the burdened land. While easements may arise in a variety of ways, they are commonly created by a servient property owner's express written grant permitting particular use of a designated area of his land. At a minimum, the grant must identify the servient estate and indicate the owner's intent to create an easement. Where an express grant does not specifically state the boundaries or location of an easement, the easement is often known as a "blanket" or "floating easement."1


Only a few states either expressly prohibit or explicitly validate blanket easements, and then only in limited circumstances. This section examines each of these approaches.

Expressly Prohibited

Some states, like Missouri, Wyoming, and Minnesota, prohibit blanket easements in limited contexts (e.g., those created after a certain date or through condemnation by public utilities). Others, like North Dakota, have passed statutes intended to inhibit blanket easements, but their courts have upheld easements where the parties clearly intended to grant blanket rights.

Under Missouri's condemnation statute, public utility companies can acquire an easement to provide public utility services by condemning private land.2 The statute, however, disallows blanket easements as against public policy. It defines a blanket easement as one created after December 31, 2006, that purports to allow a public utility to locate its facilities at some undefined location on condemned property so that it can access the entire parcel.3 As to easements created before December 31, 2006, the intent of the contracting parties and the language of an express grant control their validity.4 Where a grant clearly identifies a servient parcel and gives a utility company "the right to fully use and enjoy" the land for its public services, the grant creates a valid blanket easement.

Wyoming's statutemore thoroughly prohibits recently-created blanket easements. It nullifies easements created after March 24, 2006 that do not specifically describe the easement's location.5 If a grant expressly permits an easement's location to be fixed later, the easement is invalid if its location is not recorded within one year of its creation. Like Missouri, however, the statute does not govern easements created before March 24, 2006. Instead, courts determine the scope of older floating easements by examining the original parties' intent, reasonable necessity, and prior use.6

Although Minnesota seriously limits modern blanket easements for utilities, it is highly deferential to older express easements that unambiguously give utilities blanket access rights. Minnesota Statute § 300.045, enacted in 1973, requires that public service corporations 1) "definitely and specifically describe" property acquired by an easement, 2) limit the property acquired to "the minimum necessary for the safe conduct of their business," and 3) provide a definite and specific description of an ambiguous easement upon the request of a servient owner.7 The statute, however, does not govern easements created before its enactment.8 The extent of older easements depends entirely on the terms of the grant if the granting language is unambiguous. In Scherger v. Northern Natural Gas Co., a gas utility company was allowed to construct a new pipeline anywhere on a servient owner's property because a blanket easement granted in 1931 clearly gave the utility the right to "construct, inspect, maintain, repair, and replace its pipelines" on the original owner's land.9

Even in North Dakota, where grants must specifically set out the portion of a servient parcel burdened by an easement,10 courts will not invalidate blanket easements that parties intended to create. In Krenz v. XTO Energy, Inc., landowners granted a utility company an easement to construct a pipeline in a surveyed area that comprised several parcels, with the utility expressly given the right to choose where to build.11 The court acknowledged the utility's right to build anywhere within the described area, even though the grant did not designate the pipeline's exact location, because the parties clearly meant to leave the location undetermined at the time of the grant.


1 Law Easements, § 7.4 (2018).

2 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 523.010 (2018).

3 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 523.282 (2018).

4 See Kleinheider v. Phillips Pipe Line Co., 528 F.2d 837, 839, 842 (8th Cir. 1975).

5 Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 34-1-141 (2018).

6 R.C.R., Inc. v. Rainbow Canyon, Inc., 978 P.2d 581, 587 (Wyo. 1999).

7 Minn. Stat. Ann. § 301B.03 (2018).

8 Scherger v. Northern Natural Gas Co., 575 N.W.2d 578, 581 (Minn. 1998).

9 Scherger v. Northern Natural Gas Co., 575 N.W.2d 578, 580-81 (Minn. 1998).

10 N.D. Cent. Code § 47-05-02.1 (2017).

11 Krenz v. XTO Energy, Inc., 890 N.W.2d 222, 232–33 (N.D. 2017).

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Thomas J. Dougherty
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