Maryland regulators approve Potomac River gas pipeline

Maryland regulators will allow a Canadian energy company to route a controversial natural gas pipeline through the state and beneath the Potomac River, but will subject the project to safeguards they say will protect the river and groundwater.

The state’s decision was announced Friday, the deadline for acting on the environmental permit application that Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada, submitted a year ago.

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is holding the project to almost two dozen environmental conditions that he said “go above and beyond” requirements already imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They include monitoring of wells, limitations on the types of fluids used in drilling and notifications of any pollution events.

“After a year of robust, public review, the state is insisting on extra precautions and safeguards,” Grumbles said in a statement. “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.”

Environmental groups that have been protesting the project were not appeased. They have called on Gov. Larry Hogan to order a more extensive environmental impact study to ensure that Potomac River drinking water and groundwater aren’t contaminated.

“Extra precautions aren’t enough,” said Mitch Jones, senior policy advocate for Food and Water Watch. “This move is an attempt to greenwash further fossil fuel development that continues to threaten Marylanders’ drinking water while continuing to promote the use of fracked gas. We’d hoped that [Hogan’s] decision to oppose fracking meant he fully understood the threats fracked gas pose, but clearly he hasn’t really learned that lesson.”

The pipeline project will connect Pennsylvania gas producers with gas customers in West Virginia. It would run through for three miles through a sliver of Western Maryland and beneath the Potomac River near the town of Hancock

Grumbles said the Army Corps’ review of the project has already included the scrutiny that environmental groups are requesting.

“Some opponents of natural gas have created confusion by repeatedly mischaracterizing legal, procedural and technical aspects of the permit application,” Grumbles said. “State law gives MDE the regulatory tools we need to protect public health and the environment, and we are using those tools to fully supplement federal review.”

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