WASHINGTON — Protesters are camping out for the summer in an effort to stop a natural gas pipeline that would run under the Potomac River in Maryland.
A coalition of protesters kicked off the effort Friday at McCoy’s Ferry, a campground along the C&O Canal between Hagerstown and Hancock.
The TransCanada Eastern Panhandle Expansion would originate in Bedford, Pennsylvania, cross Maryland west of Hancock, and terminate near Berkleley Springs, West Virginia. But there’s no benefit to Marylanders under the plan, said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“It’s not Maryland that’s selling the gas; it’s not Maryland that’s buying the gas,” Tidwell said. “It’s being sold from Pennsylvania and being used and purchased in West Virginia — yet Maryland has to take all the risk.”
The plan poses risks to the environment, Tidwell said. “We see it as a threat to drinking water. Six million people draw their drinking water from the Potomac River.”
Tidwell wants Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who ordered a ban on fracking in the state, to block the project by denying TransCanada a 401 certification, which would certify that a project will not impact state water quality standards.
At the time he announced his support to ban fracking, Hogan called the action “an important initiative to safeguard our environment.”
On its website, TransCanada said the pipeline would provide natural gas to Mountaineer Gas in Morgan County, West Virginia. “The project will be constructed according to stringent federal standards for both safety and the environment,” TransCanada said.
Maryland’s secretary of the environment, Ben Grumbles, said his department is studying the issue. A decision on how to proceed, he said, will be based not on whether Maryland would benefit from the pipeline, but rather its impact on the environment.
“Right now our focus as an environmental agency, in coordination with the natural resources agency, is to look at what potential impacts there might be to state-owned lands, to the Potomac River, to communities” and to other environmental assets in the state, said Grumbles.
The public will get a chance to have a say on the matter. “We’re committed to having a public hearing on the application in the coming weeks,” he said.
There are a number of pipelines for a variety of utilities running across the Potomac River, and regarding the pipeline plan, Grumbles said, “every proposal needs to be looked at on the merits,” especially how it impacts what he called “the precious Potomac River, which is an important resource for the entire region.”
If the state feels it has all the information it needs from TransCanada, he said, public hearings could be held as early as August.
In the meantime, environmentalists and concerned citizens will be taking part in what Tidwell called a “rolling campout” on several spots along the C&O Canal in western Maryland, where the pipeline could be constructed.
“There are going to be people camping at different points along the C&O Canal along the pipeline route,” Tidwell said.
“This is going to go on until this issue is resolved.”
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