Gas company sues Maryland seeking to resurrect pipeline through Western Maryland

A gas company has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Maryland after state officials unanimously rejected plans for a pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through three miles of Western Maryland.

Columbia Gas Transmission, which is owned by TransCanada Corp., filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It seeks a preliminary injunction to give the company the immediate access to property that Maryland’s Board of Public Works denied in January. It also seeks the “award of just compensation and damages.”

“This is very unfortunate, but we have exhausted all other reasonable options and are committed to completing this project in a timely fashion to deliver for Mountaineer Gas Company and their customers,” TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said in an email. “This project is critical to the continued development and economic prosperity of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and the surrounding region.”

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan joined Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both Democrats, in voting against a needed easement for the pipeline, citing concern for the environment. The pipeline would carry natural gas produced by both traditional and hydraulic fracturing methods.

Hogan’s spokesman said Friday the governor remains concerned about the pipeline.

“Governor Hogan continues to have great reservations about this project's impact on the Potomac River and the state's waterways — natural assets he is committed to protecting and preserving,” said Mike Ricci, the spokesman.

And environmental groups quickly objected to the suit.

“We didn't expect Columbia Gas to give up on building the unnecessary and harmful Potomac Pipeline, but we never expected for them to condemn Maryland's own land through eminent domain proceedings in federal court. As far as we know, such a corporate takeover of Maryland’s public land has never been attempted before,” said Brooke Harper, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “This is an arrogant overreach by a company — owned by Canadian energy giant TransCanada — desperate to rake in shareholder profits while locking the region into decades of reliance on fossil fuels."

Despite a state agency’s recommendation that Columbia Gas Transmission receive permission to build the pipeline through Washington County, board members were inundated with testimony against the project, including a letter from over 60 state lawmakers.

“We urge you to deny TransCanada’s proposal to build a gas pipeline through Maryland,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe this project would reverse course on our state’s efforts to protect the health of our residents and combat climate change. … Given that Maryland has banned fracking, it defies our state’s existing energy policy to bring the same public health risks to our residents by way of a pipeline.”

Franchot called the testimony “compelling.”

Castleman argued the gas company was caught off guard by the vote.

“I want to reiterate that for nearly two years, our project has been studied and scrutinized by groups, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department Natural Resources,” he said. “Through this extensive process, we have been issued all necessary environmental permits to construct. These regulators confirmed that through proper design and construction, our project can be completed in an environmentally responsible and safe manner, and we are committed to doing just that.”

Castleman also said residents who use a popular trail in the area would be unaffected by the work on the pipeline.

Document: Read the lawsuit »

“I also want to point out that at no point during construction is our work expected to disrupt use of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, as we will be tunneling more than 100 feet below the trail surface. All recreational use will be allowed to continue as normal,” he said.

Hogan signed Maryland’s ban on fracking — a natural gas harvesting technique that involves injecting liquids at high pressure underground to force out the gas — in 2017.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources conducted an environmental review of the proposed easement for the pipeline through a small portion of Washington County that the state owns.

The pipeline would have transported fracked gas from Pennsylvania to a new plant in West Virginia. More than 13,000 people have signed a petition opposing the proposed plant in Jefferson County, West Virginia.

About 35 people, including some from Western Maryland and West Virginia, attended the Maryland Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis to oppose the deal.

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