Residents, protestors gather at Hancock pipeline open house
Dozens of people protesting construction of a natural gas supply line west of Hancock and under the Potomac River packed into the Hancock Community Center last Thursday, February 9 during an Open House put on by the company wanting to build the line.
TransCanada, parent company of Columbia Pipeline Group, has proposed routing a natural gas supply line from a 20-inch transmission line along the Maryland/Pennsylvania border south toward the Potomac River.
The company put on the Open House to offer details about the route, construction and permitting process involved in the project. Roughly 20 TransCanada employees staffed six informational tables around the Community Center’s main meeting room and offered company materials to those who attended.
Anti-pipeline protestors spent the first hour of the two-hour Open House gathered in the center of the room, speaking about their environmental concerns, sometimes singing and sometimes standing in silent protest.
Hancock area residents first learned of the natural gas extension project when a West Virginia company took steps to get approval for a 23-mile gas line extension from north of Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg. Plans by Mountaineer Gas to build that line depend on getting natural gas from an existing transmission line in Pennsylvania, just north of Hancock.
That line is owned by Columbia Gas and operated by TransCanada. The company has proposed a separate natural gas line extension from Southern Fulton County to the southern bank of the Potomac River in West Virginia.
Under the proposal, natural gas would be tapped off a 20- inch high-pressure transmission line along the Mason- Dixon line. The tap would be made roughly a mile west of I- 70, said company officials, and continue 3.4 miles to the other side of the Potomac.
TransCanada must get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the line because it spans three states, and is therefore considered an interstate utility project.
Gas company officials said Thursday they expect to submit an application to FERC for those approvals in March.
The project is expected to cost TransCanada $20 million, said company spokesman Scott Castleman. Other company officials said the project would take four to six months to complete.
Land permission sought
Before seeking federal approval, the company is working to secure landowner permission to construct the proposed eight-inch natural gas line.
Land agent Scott Kohne of Percheron, a right-of-way company working for the project, said there are 19 tracts of property the proposed line would cross.
Percheron and TransCanada have been negotiating with 14 property owners to gain permission to those 19 tracts, said Kohne. Among the landowners are individuals, the Town of Hancock, Fairview Orchards Landbesitz, Inc., U.S. Silica and the National Park Service.
On Thursday, Kohne said 40% of the rights of way have been purchased for the project. He said negotiations are still ongoing with the German owners of the orchard property west of Hancock and with U.S. Silica, which owns the parcel of land in West Virginia where the gas line would surface.
Castleman said company meetings with the National Park Service have taken place to seek permission to run the gas line underground beneath the C&O Canal National Historical Park. TransCanada plans to bore under the park, avoiding any need to dig on park land.
Castleman said the company is now asking for access to the park to survey where a gas line would cross federal property. If that survey goes ahead, TransCanada would propose a payment to the National Park Service for an easement, as they do with private property owners.
Drilling under river
One of the most-visited displays set up by TransCanada during their Open House last week was a video depicting the process of horizontal directional drilling, which is the method the company would use to run a natural gas supply line under the Potomac River.
In addition to boring under the river and the C&O Canal, the northern end of the project plans show horizontal directional drilling under I-68 and traditional boring under Maryland 144.
Part of the TransCanada display included a sample of coated eight-inch pipe that would be used in the project.
That pipe, TransCanada officials said, is .322 mm thick and can carry gas at a maximum allowable pressure of 936 pounds per square inch. Company officials said they operate pipes at closer to 700 pounds per square inch of pressure.
The video of proposed horizontal drilling showed several steps, from a small pilot hole being drilled at the desired depth, to the process of machinery pulling finished pipe under the river.
Bill Miles, TransCanada project manager, said pipe contractors would use municipal water to lubricate drilling underground, and capture dirtied water to be treated.
Miles said contractors will weld, e-ray and pressure test sections of pipe above ground before pulling them underground.
According to Miles, the drilling work would be bid out to contractors who have experience drilling in this area and are familiar with the geology here.
TransCanada officials will be onsite to supervise the project and hold contractors to their design and safety standards, he said.
The horizontal bore under the Potomac River has been designed to stretch 4,200 feet – roughly .8 miles. Drilling in that section of the project could take one to two months, said Luis Michieli, pipeline engineer manager for TransCanada. Michieli said the depth of the drilling is dictated by the angle and distance of the bore. He estimated drilling under the river would be at 70 to 120 feet below the riverbed.
The natural gas line would emerge on the West Virginia side of the river on land owned by U.S. Silica near the “Lover’s Leap” historical sign, according to company plans.
There, Mountaineer Gas could connect a distribution line for customers from Morgan County to Berkeley County, including a new Procter and Gamble manufacturing plant being built near Martinsburg.
Not all against
Despite a sizable and vocal group of protestors present at last Thursday’s Open House, not all who attended were against the proposed project.
The Town of Hancock has already granted a right of way to TransCanada to take the gas line across a small parcel of town-owned land along the route.
Charles Conley, who stayed at the Open House until after the protestors left, said he supports the gas line project in the Hancock area.
“I don’t have a problem with it. It’s progress. What they’ll disturb, they’ll fix,” he said.
Conley has agreed to let the gas company have an easement through his property off Casper Road. The company will pay him for a 50-ft. wide path that extends roughly 800 feet through his land.
“The biggest concern of my neighbor was that it would devalue the property,” Conley said. He agreed it might limit who would want to buy the property if he ever decided to sell it.
Conley said he sees the natural gas extension as “a good investment for the area.”
Downtown Hancock has natural gas lines available to residents. Conley said he used to use gas and heated his home cheaply.
Water is main concern
Protestors at the TransCanada event voiced significant concerns over the safety of water, related to a proposed gas line underground and under the Potomac and associated with hydraulic fracturing in general.
Also known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing is a way of extracting natural gas by driving fluids underground under significant pressure. The process uses a large quantity of water and has been known to contaminate underground water sources.
Opponents to the gas project have also objected to the potential damage from construction to private property and waterways along the proposed gas line route.
Most of those concerns related to the large number of properties that would be crossed in West Virginia for a proposed 23-mile line extension. Some protestors in Hancock were Morgan County landowners who have refused to grant rights of way to Mountaineer Gas for their project.
Mountaineer Gas has said they won’t build their 23-mile line extension until TransCanada gets federal approval to build a 3.4-mile distribution line in the Hancock area.