by Kate Shunney
Natural gas corporation TransCanada officials say they expect to work closely with inspectors and regulators during construction of a 3.4-mile gas line extension that could connect Pennsylvania gas supplies with West Virginia customers.
TransCanada expects a decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the fate of the $25 million project this month.
The company applied to FERC last spring for a Certificate of Convenience and Public Necessity for the project. Federal approval is needed because construction would span three states. The line would run from an existing transmission line in Fulton County, Pa. through the area west of Hancock and under the Potomac River to reach Morgan County, W.Va.
More than a mile of the line would be built using horizontal direction drilling, including the portion under the Potomac River.
The company plans to operate a large drilling rig from the Berkeley Springs side of the Potomac River to bore under the riverbed toward an area west of Hancock. Contractors would build the 8-inch steel gas pipe on the Maryland side of the river. The pipe would be pulled back through the bore hole toward West Virginia, TransCanada project managers have said.
Opponents of the project have questioned whether horizontal directional drilling is safe under the Potomac, saying there’s a chance the drilling will pass through sensitive geology, and a gas pipeline under the river would pose a risk of pollution.
Company spokesman Scott Castleman said horizontal directional drilling is very safe and has been used to build hundreds of miles of gas pipeline in recent years.
The Maryland Division of Natural Resources reviewed the drilling plans under the Potomac River and supported the use of horizontal directional drilling under the river in an assessment submitted to the MDE.
“When it comes to the issue of the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, we are taking steps to ensure the pipeline does not impact those waterways,” said project manager Duje Tomic. He said contractors would bore 100 feet below the riverbeds to avoid impacts on water quality.
Castleman said the line proposed to pass under the Potomac River near Hancock would be the 17th gas line operated by TransCanada under the river. He said there are nine lines under the Potomac in Allegany County, two in Garrett County and five in Montgomery County.
Some of those gas lines under the river date back to the late 1940s.
“We have had them in place for a very long time and all are in good operating order,” he said. With inspections and regular maintenance, pipelines can “hold up for a long time” said Castleman. Modern coatings on the pipe and cathodic protection – an electrical method of slowing metal corrosion – also add to the longevity of gas pipes underground.
Castleman said if FERC grants permission to proceed with the connector line to West Virginia, TransCanada must show they have all necessary permits before getting a Notice to Proceed with construction.
Those permits include approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Maryland Department of the Environment; U.S. National Park Service; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; historical agencies from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia; the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Fulton County (Pa.) soil conservation district and Washington County (Md.) Planning and Zoning.
If those permits are granted, TransCanada would hire contractors and inspectors to build the 3.4-mile gas line according to extensive engineering plans.
“TransCanada will have inspectors on site during work hours to ensure our crews are meeting our strict construction guidelines and Washington County officials have expressed interest in periodically inspecting construction to monitor our environmental controls. Additional inspectors from agencies such as FERC will also inspect our work, which we fully welcome,” Castleman said.
Company officials said they understand environmental concerns brought up by opponents to the pipeline project.
“We really, really care about doing this the right way,” said Castleman.