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Maryland issues permit for natural gas pipeline

March 16, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland issued a permit Friday for a proposed natural gas pipeline in western Maryland that has brought protesters to the state capital.

The wetlands and waterways permit for the proposed Columbia Gas pipeline includes customized conditions specific to the project and its location to ensure protection of public health and the environment, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced. Ben Grumbles, who heads the department, said the state has added almost two dozen environmental conditions, many of which “go above and beyond” what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would typically include.

“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,” Grumbles said in a statement.

The project would involve construction of about 3 miles of new 8-inch diameter natural gas pipeline in Maryland as part of a 3.4-mile pipeline that would connect a TransCanada pipeline in Pennsylvania to Mountaineer Gas line in West Virginia. It would run through Maryland under the Potomac River.

The department says impacts to non-tidal wetlands, wetland buffer, stream and floodplain areas are estimated to be about three-fifths of an acre.

Opponents have criticized the proposal, saying it could affect drinking water for millions. They have called on Gov. Larry Hogan to reject the proposal. On Wednesday, five protesters were arrested after blocking the front of the statehouse. They were briefly detained and released without formal charges, according to Maryland Department of General Services spokesman Nick Cavey.

Last month, protesters held lit letters at an evening rally by the governor’s residence, calling on him rejected the pipeline.

Anne Havemann, an attorney with Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the state-level permit is limited in what it covers. She said the state should have pursued a stronger certification under the Clean Water Act, which she said would have put the burden on TransCanada to prove the project won’t harm water quality.

“The Hogan administration has made a serious mistake in its regulatory approach to this pipeline with the potential of severe impacts to drinking water, public health, and the environment,” Havemann said in a statement. “It’s very disappointing that the administration decided to issue this limited and flawed permit the day after it waived its right to fully review the project under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.”

Some of the state’s conditions for the pipeline include safeguards to protect drinking water, the department said. State officials also included safeguards relating to horizontal drilling, with limits of allowable drilling fluids to water and bentonite clay, with no additives without prior department approval. Another condition requires visual monitoring of the Potomac River by boat from sunrise to sunset for early detection of any pollution. There also is a prohibition against blasting without prior department approval.

The department is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to include Maryland’s special conditions in any authorizations they might issue for the project.

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