The Maryland Department of the Environment is investigating whether the construction of a $200 million pipeline across Southern Maryland to a liquefied natural gas plant damaged a stream in Calvert County.
Neighbors of Hunting Creek, north of Prince Frederick, say that clay leaked into the stream while a tunnel was being dug under the waterway for the 36-inch pipe. Residents said the muck made part of the creek too shallow for some boats to navigate.
The pipeline company denies any damage to the creek, and the state's Department of Natural Resources says there is little evidence of harm, although the investigation continues.
Whether or not the neighbors' complaints result in state action, more inconvenience is expected this summer as Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources clear-cuts a 20-foot-wide swath of trees across more than 200 private properties in Calvert and Charles counties and digs a trench to build a 48-mile-long pipeline to the Cove Point liquid natural gas plant, which is doubling in size.
Bill Fox, a homeowner who has a pier in Hunting Creek, said the state should make sure the project doesn't hurt waterways.
"The bottom of the creek opened up during the drilling, and all this junk went into the stream," said Fox. The clay released into the stream has made it impossible for him to use his 25 foot motorboat, he said, adding, "They are changing the whole flow of the creek down here. ... I am furious."
Inspectors with the state environmental agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were investigating the creek yesterday. The muddying allegedly occurred last fall, at about the time a 20-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep sinkhole opened up beside the Foxes' driveway.
A Dominion official said the company repaired the sinkhole and investigated the stream complaint, and concluded that there was no fracture or damage to the creek.
"Anything that was affected by us, we cleaned up," said Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien. "We have had no affect whatsoever on Hunting Creek or the creek bed."
Gary Setzer, manager of the MDE's wetlands and waterways program, said his agency is looking into whether fractures - called "frack outs" - opened while contractors drilled tunnels under at least two streams in Calvert County, releasing clay used as a lubricant during the drilling process.
"There were a number of frack outs throughout the drilling process [during which] mud escapes and the land surface blisters," Setzer said. "Hunting Creek was not the only place, we are also looking at St. Leonard's Creek [also in Calvert County] and elsewhere as well. We are investigating."
A preliminary report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September said that no fractures appeared to open up under Hunting Creek during the drilling.
But Tamara Young-Allen, spokeswoman for the federal agency, said yesterday that the agency has not reached a conclusion on what happened to the stream.
Olivia Campbell, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said her agency's examination of the creek revealed some places where the water wasn't as deep as it was before the drilling and other places where it was deeper. The cause is unclear, she said.
"I don't think they [DNR officials] found anything significant in the creek that they can say was caused by the drilling," Campbell said.