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Maryland denies easement, blocking route of Columbia Gas pipeline project

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Maryland denies easement, blocking route of Columbia Gas pipeline project

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the state Board of Public Works voted against a permit for a 47,500-Dth/d Columbia Gas Transmission LLC natural gas pipeline project that would cross state land on a short route from Pennsylvania to a West Virginia utility.

The Republican governor joined Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot on Jan. 2 to deny the easement to cross the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which runs about 20 miles along the Potomac River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Eastern Panhandle expansion project in July 2018. (FERC docket CP17-80)

The project, a little more than 3 miles of 8-inch-diameter pipeline that was estimated to cost $25 million, would bring gas from a Pennsylvania line operated by Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp., to utility Mountaineer Gas Co. in Morgan County, W.Va. In addition to the FERC certificate, the project has received permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers among others.

TransCanada called the decision on the Maryland easement unfortunate but said it does not change the company's commitment to the project. Columbia Gas will now consider options for keeping the project on track. TransCanada plans to begin and complete construction in 2019.

"For nearly two years, our project has been studied and scrutinized by groups including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources," Scott Castleman, manager for U.S. and Mexico gas communications at TransCanada, said Jan. 2. "This extensive process has confirmed that through proper design and construction our project can be completed in an environmentally responsible and safe manner."

Environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Potomac Riverkeeper Network, have challenged the project. They called the governor's decision a "stunning development" that gave them hope for "a major shift in state energy policy."

"For two years, Maryland has been calling on Governor Hogan to keep his promise and protect Marylanders from the harms of fracking," Brooke Harper, Maryland director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement. "Today, he took a step in the right direction by rejecting a permit for a dangerous fracked-gas pipeline proposed by TransCanada. Hopefully, this signals a reversal of the governor's prior policy of promoting fracked gas consumption and pipelines in Maryland."