Maryland Approves Permit for Gas Pipeline to Run Under Potomac River

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will allow the proposed Columbia Gas pipeline to go ahead, but says it's requiring several environmental safeguards that go above and beyond what federal agencies mandate.

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MDE issued a state wetlands and waterways permit for the 8-inch pipeline, which would run from Fulton County, Pennsylvania to Morgan County, West Virginia and include a three-mile section of Western Maryland, under the Potomac River near Hancock.

“After a year of robust, public review, the state is insisting on extra precautions and safeguards, Our state permit is strong and balanced, adding almost two dozen environmental conditions, many of which go above and beyond what the Army Corps and FERC would typically include, while also recognizing that natural gas has a role in meeting state and regional energy needs,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “The bottom line is that this pipeline will not get built if the applicant doesn’t comply with our many requirements, regardless of what the federal agencies ultimately decide.”

 Protesters in Hancock

Protesters in Hancock

MDE says its extra requirements include monitoring of drinking-water wells for both public water systems and private homes, and responses including bottled water and well replacement if necessary. MDE will require horizontal directional drilling, no blasting without prior approval. The company will have to visually monitor the Potomac River by boat from sunrise to sunset, to catch any pollution event right away. Lastly, it will have to take action to prevent sinkholes from forming.

MDE received the permit application from Columbia Gas, which is owned by TransCanada, in March 2017. Since then, some residents and environmental groups have been fighting the project, questioning the impact on drinking water and groundwater. A December public hearing had to be extended to a second date in January because so many people wanted to speak. In January, coalition of 18 groups sent a letter to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, accusing the administration of "failing to take adequate protective measures" in the project.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network, one of the groups who sent the letter, says on its website, "There is a real risk of this combined pipeline project to the Potomac River, the drinking water source for over 6 million people, and a risk to several high quality West Virginia streams and to private property in both Maryland and West Virginia."

To see the permit and the basis for MDE's decision, click here.