Wednesday 23 January 2019

Vote Could Stop Controversial Fracked Gas Pipeline Under the Potomac River

In a surprising move, Governor Hogan joined other Maryland Board of Public Works members in voting to reject a permit necessary for a fracked gas pipeline known as the “Potomac Pipeline.” During the Maryland Board of Public Works’ meeting on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019, Hogan and the other members of the board unanimously rejected a right-of-way easement under the Western Maryland Rail/Trail. The proposed Potomac Pipeline would tunnel under the Potomac River to transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.

“For two years, we have joined our partners in the No Potomac Pipeline coalition in calling on Maryland to protect its residents from the harms of fracking, including ejecting a permit for this dangerous fracked gas pipeline proposed by TransCanada,” said Katlyn Schmitt, Staff Attorney for Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “With several new pipelines currently under consideration, including on the Eastern Shore, it is time for Maryland to improve its process for evaluating the environmental risks of fracked gas infrastructure.”

The decision comes on the heels of a letter signed by 63 Maryland legislators calling on Governor Hogan to reject the easement. “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,” the legislators stated.

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls testifying at Maryland Board of Public Works.Without the right-of-away easement, the pipeline will not be constructed over the route originally proposed. According to Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls (pictured right), TransCanada can take legal action against Maryland over the vote, abandon the project, or seek an alternative route, which would require a new application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In the upcoming General Assembly session, we will be supporting bills that will require the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) to carry out comprehensive environmental reviews of all new natural gas projects, like the Potomac Pipeline, that fall under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. MDE refused to carry out a full review under section 401 for the Potomac Pipeline, as well as other earlier pipelines, deferring instead to the Army Corps of Engineer’s blanket permit.

This pipeline is one of many being proposed or in the process of being built across several states in the region. Environmental activists and residents in Virginia have been waging fights against two fracked gas pipelines proposed to run through rural sections of that state.

Opponents of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline have won a string of legal victories that have brought work on the $7 billion, 600-mile fracked natural gas pipeline to a halt, at least temporarily. Several rulings are under appeal, while an even bigger case looms in the new year. That project, spearheaded by Dominion Energy, would carry fracked natural gas through rugged mountain terrain and several national forests from West Virginia through central Virginia and into North Carolina.

A second pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline, would carry fracked natural gas 300 miles from West Virginia through some of Virginia’s most rugged mountains and into North Carolina. It is being built by a consortium of companies led by EQT Midstream Partners of Pittsburgh but has also faced several setbacks, including a lawsuit filed last month by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.


Proposed rule frees industry to dump toxic waste into streams, allows the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands, and threatens drinking water.

On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposal to replace the 2015 Clean Water Rule with a very narrow, unscientific definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). This proposed rule contradicts the law and science that is the foundation for the Clean Water Act successes of the past 40 years, will remove Clean Water Act protections for millions of wetland acres and stream miles, and will cripple federal and state clean water initiatives for the foreseeable future. EPA’s proposal ignores the robust record in support of the Clean Water Rule, and intentionally limits the opportunity for affected communities to express their views about this proposal. This proposal would remove up to 60% of stream miles and up to 80% of wetland acres from federal protections under the Clean Water Act. 

“Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers, as well as a huge number of wetlands, would not receive protections under the Trump administration’s heartless scheme to repeal the Clean Water Rule.”

The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Clean Water Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections extended to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – that’s one in three Americans.

EPA’s proposal would eliminate federal protections for areas that contain water only after rainfall and would no longer regulate groundwater, stormwater, wastewater and land already converted for crops. It would regulate wetlands or waterways only if they are clearly adjacent to navigable waterways above ground or through “direct subsurface connection.”

The proposal would drop federal oversight of gravel and sand pits, which are commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and old quarries that fill up with water. It also would prevent federal officials from ordering changes in the handling of fertilizers that might spill into small waterways. The changes could benefit coal mining companies that lop off the tops of mountains and fill in valleys with waste, often creating ponds.

In rushing to publish the proposed rule, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers ignored science, violated the Administrative Procedure Act by halting enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, and failed to comply with either the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require the federal government to “look before you leap” and ensure that the environmental consequences of a particular action will not cause unintended environmental damage.

We oppose this heartless scheme to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule and to gut the protections that have prevented reckless pollution of the nation's waterways for decades. Access to safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy, thriving communities, where everyone can participate, prosper and reach their full potential. This proposed rule would put water at risk for too many communities by removing protections for streams and wetlands across the nation and our region.

What you can do: Sign this petition today and stay tuned for more actions you can take to stop this attack on your clean water!

Waterkeepers Chesapeake 2018 Year-End Reflections Featured

Recent years at Waterkeepers Chesapeake have been marked by pronounced growth in our organization and our capacity to protect clean water in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays regions. Waterkeepers Chesapeake has been working hard to magnify the impact of each member organization to reduce pollution by focusing on long-term systemic change, organizing collective legal and advocacy campaigns, coordinating information and resources, and amplifying the voices of our Waterkeepers. Now Waterkeepers have more influence in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays restoration efforts than ever.

Please explore some of what you have helped us achieve with your support and participation!

Passage of Groundbreaking Laws & Policies that Protect Water -

Voice for Water Quality -

  • Commented on key state and federal policies that affect local water quality
  • Watchdogged polluter-facilities that fall under state permits
  • Submitted Public Information Act requests based on water quality enforcement concerns

Built Powerful Movements –

  • Through our Fair Farms work, we have been able to utilize our relationship with farmers and our consumer base to garnish public support for food systems policies that also improve the health of our waterways. The Fair Farms campaign now has over 37,000 activated consumers and 178 partners!
  • Waterkeepers Chesapeake helped launch the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition in 2015 to push for a long-term moratorium on fracking in Maryland. A two-year moratorium on fracking passed in 2015, and Don’t Frack Maryland continued on and called for a statewide ban. In March 2017, a statewide fracking ban passed, the result of a massive grassroots movement across Maryland, especially in Western Maryland, that demanded the legislature protect their families, livelihoods, and clean water and air from the irreversible damage caused by fracking.

Support to Member Waterkeepers -

  • Provided legal and communications support in our fight against the fracked gas Potomac Pipeline
  • Intervened in federal action to ensure that Conowingo Dam owner pays fair share of Susquehanna River cleanup efforts
  • Held various trainings and presentations on legal and policy advocacy

CLICK HERE to read more on our Waterkeepers Chesapeake work and impact.