Maryland and West Virginia to hold public hearings on gas pipelines

Hancock, MD - On Tuesday, Dec. 19 from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Hancock Middle/High School, the Maryland Department of the Environment will hold a public hearing on the proposed TransCanada pipeline project.
TransCanada acquired Columbia Pipeline Group on July 1, 2016. Columbia Gas Transmission is the operating company name on a proposed project to build an extension from an existing pipeline that runs parallel to the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. The off-shoot line would be constructed under the C&O Canal and Potomac River west of Hancock and into Morgan County on U.S. Silica land.  It would be completed just east of U.S. 522 about 2 miles from the Hancock bridge. 

This pipeline would connect to a proposed pipeline expansion by Mountaineer Gas from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs in order to provide gas to Martinsburg area customers.

TransCanada is headquartered in Calgary and has a main U.S. headquarters in Houston, Tex. It operates one of the country’s largest natural gas pipeline networks of 56,100 miles. 

In February 2017 during an open house in Hancock, Scott Castleman, Manager of U.S. Natural Gas Communications for TransCanada, said an existing gas transmission line is at the state border and they propose a 3.4-mile line off of it from west of Hancock into West Virginia to feed the Mountaineer Gas system.

Second public hearing in Berkeley Springs, WV

On 6 p.m. January 9, 2018, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing at Berkeley Springs High School about an application by Mountaineer Gas for a stormwater management permit tied to construction of their proposed natural gas pipeline.

The expansion pipeline constructed by Mountaineer Gas, based in Charleston, is due in part to Procter and Gamble Company’s request for natural gas at its new plant in Tabler Station Business Park south of Martinsburg. The company’s available capacity in Martinsburg was very close to being consumed by P&G’s request.

The Mountaineer pipeline is a proposed 10-inch distribution line that would be approximately three feet below ground. There are three segments of the proposed project. Segment 1 from Morgan County to Martinsburg is 24 miles. The total distance is 56 miles. Mountaineer Gas has a projected cost of $45 million dollars.

The permit application includes documents associated with the natural gas construction plans, property crossings and plans to manage runoff during construction of a pipeline through Morgan County and into Berkeley County.

Mountaineer Gas also has to wait for a decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about the project before construction can begin. FERC must approve the plans because it is an interstate energy project.  An environmental assessment of the project is expected to be done by January.

A copy of the Mountaineer Gas permit can be viewed on the DEP website or by calling Sharon Mullins, Division of Water & Waste Management, at (304) 926- 0499, ext. 1132. Or, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

There are citizens’ groups and environmental groups opposed to both pipelines. Between 6 and 7 p.m., on Dec. 19, several area environmental organizations, including Potomac Riverkeepers, Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Eastern Panhandle Protectors and Chesapeake Climate Action Network will hold a press conference outside the Hancock Middle/High School.

The project plans will be on display beginning at 6 p.m. The hearing will start at 7 p.m. Hancock Middle/High School is at 289 W. Main Street.

They are concerned about risks to drinking water and the Potomac River. They fear the pipeline will affect sensitive Karst geology.  Karst geology is limestone that can rapidly dissolve and form pathways between the surface and groundwater, including streams.

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said, “The route proposed would cross five streams, all of which is in Karst geology. The TransCanada proposed pipeline is only half the equation. Before Maryland considers approving a project in the first place, they need to have the full scope of the impact of this unnecessary pipeline project that includes the proposed Mountaineer gas portion. We have serious concerns that both pipelines pose a significant risk to over 100,000 people and their drinking water. Not only during the construction phase but for the life of the pipeline. These things leak. A gas leak from this pipeline in the karst geology that we have in this area threatens public and private drinking water wells. The karst geology here allows for both liquid and gas pollutants to travel great distances in a short period of time to find the best way to the surface and may encounter wells drawing in water from the karst aquifer. All this for an unnecessary pipeline that benefits no one except the gas companies and maybe a few potential businesses.”

Earlier this year, he said, during the drilling for a pipeline, nearly two million gallons of bentonite drilling fluid spilled into an Ohio wetland. 

Most of the residents opposed to Mountaineer’s pipeline from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs have said in previous hearings they were told they cannot hook up for residential gas service.  Or, they cannot afford the fees for hook up. Many of them will have the pipeline passing over their land either by contract or by eminent domain as in at least one case in Morgan County.

Walls added, “As for residential use, the hook-up fees are way too much for the average rural homeowner. So, we have damage to river beds and wetlands, sediment runoff from construction, possible massive blow out spills and equipment leaks soaking into sensitive aquifers threatening our drinking water, no economic incentive for the residents of Maryland or West Virginia, and the potential impact to a national park (C&O Canal). That is a lot of risk for no public benefit.”

Scott Castleman said in February the entire TransCanada pipeline system that runs from Louisiana to New York is monitored 24/7/365 from a monitoring center in Charleston. That includes the proposed line running into Morgan County. If there is a potential issue, they can dispatch an inspection crew immediately.  He also said they monitor monthly with aerial patrols. Airplanes carry leak detection equipment, and crews can look for land movement or encroachment.

Castleman said TransCanada is an interstate gas transmission company, not a natural gas distributor.  Mountaineer Gas is one of the company’s customers. It would be up to Mountaineer Gas for distribution to customers or another distributor with which TransCanada could work.

In response to questions about residents being able to “hook on,” Thomas Westfall, Director of Gas Supply and Technical Service at Mountaineer Gas Company, said in August 2017, “Anyone who suggests that customers cannot connect to the line going through Morgan County ‘because it is only a distribution line’ is mistaken.  In fact, the primary purpose of a ‘distribution’ line is to deliver gas to residential, commercial and industrial users. Under the West Virginia Public Service Commission (WVPSC) Rules and Regulations, customers near the pipeline may connect to it just like any other customer near any other Mountaineer gas line.

Under WVPSC Rules, the customer is ordinarily responsible for the installation (and associated cost) of the service line from the MGC distribution line to their home and necessary gas appliances.  Mountaineer Gas currently has about 6,000 customers in Berkeley County, one customer in Jefferson County, and no customers in Morgan County. Mountaineer wants to expand service in all three counties in the Eastern Panhandle and, for the first time, bring natural gas service to Morgan County.”

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