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TransCanada 'confident' as environmentalists contest Eastern Panhandle lateral

Environmental groups asked Maryland to review and reject a small natural gas lateral proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission LLC to serve West Virginia gas utility Mountaineer Gas Co., Columbia Gas' parent, TransCanada Corp., pointed to its record in the state and said it welcomes the scrutiny.

An Aug. 8 letter signed by 18 state and local environmental organizations asked Secretary Ben Grumbles of the Maryland Department of the Environment to "conduct a thorough evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of TransCanada's proposed Eastern Panhandle expansion project pipeline."

Once the department does that, the groups said, "the agency will see no other option than to reject the proposed pipeline project" as "the only way to protect the health of Maryland's waterways and communities." The groups, which included the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Savage River Watershed Association, Earthworks and Food & Water Watch, said the pipeline would cross under the C&O Canal and the Potomac River just west of Hancock, Md., to move "fracked gas" from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.

Environmental groups and other pipeline opponents, frustrated with a federal review process that does not let them stop natural gas transportation projects, have tried to get states more involved. The groups hope states can use their permitting processes to withhold important authorizations such as state-issued certificates under the Clean Water Act to delay or stop the projects, as New York has done in several cases.

A few years ago, the Maryland Department of the Environment held up an air permit for a Dominion Energy Inc. compressor project in Myersville, Md. A federal court forced the state to take action, and the state issued the permit in June 2014.

TransCanada said it is committed to community safety and the environment. "We are confident that after thorough review of our application the Maryland Department of the Environment will approve this important project in a timely fashion," TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said Aug. 8. "We have safely operated in the state of Maryland for over 50 years, including 12 current Potomac River crossings in the state."

Columbia Gas applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the 47,500-Dth/d Eastern Panhandle expansion project in March. The project, expected to cost about $25 million, would put in place less than four miles of eight-inch-diameter pipeline and related facilities between the Columbia Gas system in Fulton County, Pa., and the Mountaineer Gas delivery point in Morgan County, W.Va. (FERC docket CP17-80)