2017-05-31 / Front Page

Environmental groups, residents ask feds to take closer look at impact of natural gas line

by Kate Shunney

The pace of public comment about a proposed natural gas project picked up last week as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed their comment period related to a planned environmental assessment.

FERC has said they’ll assess the impact of a proposed 3.4-mile natural gas line between Fulton County, Pa. and Morgan County, W.Va.

In March, Columbia Gas Transmission asked FERC to approve a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the line, which would travel under the C&O Canal and Potomac River as part of the construction.

A comment period about environmental impacts of the project ended on May 25. FERC documents list 115 submissions of comments and documents from individuals, officials and groups about the project from April 26 to May 25. Of those, all but three were comments or protests on the project.

Those comments, along with the company’s application, can be viewed online by the public through the FERC website.

Many comments, from residents as close as Paw Paw to those living in the Washington, D.C. area, drew attention to the importance of the Potomac River as a water supply. Several commented the river supplies water not just for the local area, including towns like Paw Paw and Hagerstown, but to the entire Washington metropolitan area.

Commentors repeatedly wrote that there is the possibility of contaminating the Potomac’s waters through horizontal drilling for the gas distribution line and through potential leaks from the line itself, once constructed.

Many comments mentioned the recreational value of the river and the canal and warned against possible damage to them.

Others told federal regulators that they saw no pressing need for the gas line at all, and objected to efforts by Columbia Gas and Mountaineer Gas in West Virginia to pressure landowners for easements.

Comments also questioned if the area’s geology was suitable for a distribution line to be built under the riverbed. Others rejected natural gas as a preferred energy source, saying the methods used to extract it are responsible for pollution elsewhere. Many comments asserted that there is no local benefit for the expansion of natural gas service.

Several West Virginia officials sent letters of support for the gas line project, citing its economic importance to Morgan County and the Eastern Panhandle.

Mountaineer Gas, which wants to hook onto a line near Berkeley Springs in order to expand their gas supply in the Eastern Panhandle, wrote in favor of the interstate distribution line project.

Columbia Gas has estimated it will cost $25 million for them to construct a 3.4-mile natural gas line from their current transmission line at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border to the West Virginia shore of the Potomac.

Citing the connection between the Columbia Gas project and a proposal from Mountaineer Gas to build 23 miles of new natural gas line toward Martinsburg, environmental groups have urged FERC to conduct a different kind of environmental study.

In a May 25 letter to the agency, attorneys with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Allegheny Defense Project and Waterkeepers Chesapeake said the Columbia and Mountaineer gas projects qualify as a “major federal action” that, by law, requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Act, the letter argues, also requires the energy agency to “consider a broad range of reasonable alternatives” to the project as it is proposed. The groups also urged the agency to look at the project as a whole, not just as a 3.4-mile interstate connecting line.

“FERC must take a hard look at the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the Project, including impacts to the Potomac River, C&O Canal, and Chesapeake Bay watershed,” the groups wrote.

Columbia Gas has requested that FERC issue a decision on the project by 2018. The federal agency oversees utility projects that cross state lines or serve multiple states.

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I think it's worthwhile to

I think it's worthwhile to point out that gas companies are allowed to pass on the cost of "infrastructure" improvements to their current consumers. So next time I plan on expanding my office, I'll be sure to bill our patients for it.