Saturday 20 April 2019

Waterkeepers Denounce Maryland’s Decision Waiving Permit for Drilling Under the Potomac

Needs to Consider Risk of Spill to Drinking Water for Six Million

In comments filed, Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined several groups in calling on the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) to deny a state Nontidal Wetlands Permit for the controversial Potomac pipeline, after learning that MDE purposely exempted environmental review of impacts to the Potomac and Little Tonoloway Creek from this permit process. MDE has misled the public and allowed this project to avoid critical state permit requirements, in spite of potential risks to the Potomac as the source of drinking water for six million people downstream.

At a closed-door meeting in 2016, before the Application for the Potomac Pipeline was filed by Columbia Gas (now TransCanada), MDE and TransCanada agreed the underground crossing of the Potomac River using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) did not require a permit or analysis. As a result, the Nontidal Permit application focused only on a single wetland and six small streams and failed to consider the risks or impacts of drilling under the river.

For months, members of our coalition have been attending public hearings hosted by the MDE to express our concerns about the impact of the Potomac Pipeline and never once did the representatives of MDE tell us that they weren’t considering the impact of drilling under the Potomac.

MDE’s baseless and absurd assumption that there will be no impacts from the use of HDD drilling, ignores the reality of HDD drilling accidents over the past several years have fouled streams, destroyed wetlands and contaminated drinking water supplies. In a recent example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Rover Pipeline LLC to stop drilling under the Tuscarawas River in Ohio, after regulators discovered repeated spills and loss of HDD fluid at the drilling site.

The Potomac provides clean drinking water to over 6 million people in the D.C. metropolitan area downstream of the proposed drilling route under the river. It defies logic that MDE would not require the assessment of the potential impact to the Potomac River of an accident, which could result from this drilling.

In addition, our comments noted that MDE is required to consider economic value of the Pipeline in meeting a demonstrated public need in Maryland generally and the residents of Washington County specifically. However, the Application did not provide nor did MDE insist on such an analysis. In fact, Maryland receives no benefit but bears all the risk of streams polluted by construction sediment and the Potomac River. In fact, any benefits from the Potomac Pipeline solely accrue to producers of fracked gas in Pennsylvania and possibly the users of gas in West Virginia.