2017-05-10 / Front Page

Federal agency seeks comments on environmental impact of gas line project

by Kate Shunney

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last month posted their notice of intent to prepare an environmental assessment on a proposed Columbia Gas’ line extension under the Potomac River.

Columbia proposes building a 3.4-mile connector line from their natural gas distribution line along the Pennsylvania/Maryland border to West Virginia. Under their proposal, a mile of that line would be driven under the C&O Canal National Historic Park and under the Potomac River using horizontal directional drilling.

The proposed extension is meant to supply gas to Mountaineer Gas, a West Virginia company planning to build 22 miles of distribution line from the edge of Morgan County into Berkeley County. The Charleston, W.Va.-based company already operates a natural gas utility in the Martinsburg area. The new line would add capacity for new and existing customers, particularly a new Procter & Gamble manufacturing plant near Inwood.

On March 15, TransCanada (parent company of Columbia Gas Transmission) submitted a 1,462-page application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from FERC for the expansion project.

On April 25, FERC announced it will prepare an environmental assessment (EA) of the construction and operation of facilities proposed in Fulton County, Pa., Washington County and Morgan County.

“The Commission will use this EA in its decision-making process to determine whether the project is in the public convenience and necessity,” the FERC notice reads.

Comments are being sought by the agency by May 25 as part of the assessment. FERC officials ask that comments “should focus on the potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives, and measures to avoid or lessen environmental impacts.”

The public can submit their comments by three methods. All comments should include the project’s docket number (CP17-80-000).

Comments can be filed electronically using the eComment feature on www.ferc.gov under the link to Documents and Filings.

Comments can also be submitted as attachments in a variety of electronic formats using the eFiling feature on the FERC website. Users must create an account to access this feature.

The public can also file a paper copy of comments by mailing them to:

Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426.

According to FERC’s notice, the proposed project would disturb 61 acres of land for construction of the aboveground facilities and pipeline. After construction, Columbia would maintain roughly 26 acres of land for permanent operation of natural gas facilities.

“The Natural Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the Commission to take into account the environmental impacts that could result from an action whenever it considers the issuance of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. NEPA also requires us to discover and address concerns the public may have about proposals,” the FERC notice says.

In its environmental assessment, the agency will look at impacts on the following, it says: geology and soils, land use, water resources, fisheries, wetlands, cultural resources, vegetation and wildlife, air quality and noise, endangered and threatened species, public safety and cumulative impacts.

The notice also asks agencies with jurisdiction on environmental issues to cooperate with FERC in preparing the environmental assessment.

As of press time, FERC had received more than 20 comments on the project. Some individuals wrote about their concerns for sensitive areas around the Potomac River, the river’s importance as a water supply for the Washington, D.C. metro area, and the potential damage and contamination from leaks.

Two of the most recent filings are letters of support for the Columbia expansion project from West Virginia Delegate Daryl Cowles (RMorgan) and West Virginia State Senator Craig Blair (RBerkeley). The letters, which are nearly identical in wording, tout Columbia Gas Transmission’s “proven track record in the state of West Virginia, dating its roots back over 100 years.” Both letters emphasize the importance of the project to the “continued growth and development of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and surrounding region.”

Questions about how to file comments about the environmental assessment by May 25 can be directed to FERC at 202-502-8258 or by email at FercOnlineSupport@ferc.gov.

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