by KATE SHUNNEY
Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) has granted a state wetlands and waterways permit to Columbia Gas Transmission for a proposed 3.4-mile, 8-inch natural gas pipeline that would run west of Hancock and under the Potomac River.
The gas transmission line is meant to connect an existing natural gas pipeline in Fulton County, Pa. to an outlet on the West Virginia side of the Potomac. The Columbia Gas line would connect to and feed a 23-mile natural gas pipeline being built from Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg by Mountaineer Gas of Charleston, W.Va.
The entire project, from Pa. to Martinsburg, is known as the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project. The Pennsylvania to West Virginia connecting line has not yet received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which must weigh the interstate energy project. FERC is expected to issue a decision on the project this month.
In a letter today, MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles notified FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose that his agency has granted Columbia Gas the permit they have sought to build the 3.4-mile gas line through wetlands and across streams west of Hancock. Two public hearings were held on the permit, and drew hundreds of opponents to the pipeline project. Hundreds of other written comments were received during the state’s public comment period for the waterways permit.
In the March 16 letter to FERC, Grumbles writes, “MDE undertook a science-based review of the Project, considering all relevant criteria, including protection and use of waters of the State of Maryland and preservation of public safety and welfare. MDE also received significant public input regarding the Project. As a result of that process, MDE issued Columbia a state wetlands and waterways permit that includes customized conditions specific to the Project and its location.”
Some of those conditions listed in the 7-page permit document address concerns about the release of drilling fluids into the Potomac and other waterways from horizontal directional drilling, protection of private water wells, erosion and sediment control and sinkhole remediation. One of the main points of opposition regarding the pipeline is that it would be constructed in an area of karst geology, which is characterized by underground voids that increase the risk of sinkholes.
“The conditions in our permit establish reasonable precautions and safeguards intended to protect public health and the environment. If FERC grants the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity requested by Columbia for the Project, I urge you to consider including similar precautions and safeguards in it,” Grumbles’ letter says.