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Eastern Panhandle Pipeline Expansion Raises Concerns

A TransCanada pipeline extension is the subject of protests from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia. It would enter Maryland just west of Hancock. (Stacy Miller)
A TransCanada pipeline extension is the subject of protests from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia. It would enter Maryland just west of Hancock. (Stacy Miller)
March 28, 2018

BALTIMORE – A natural-gas pipeline expansion that would run from Pennsylvania through Maryland and into West Virginia is raising concerns about its potential environmental impact.

TransCanada wants to build the Eastern Panhandle Expansion, and says increasing the natural-gas supply in the area will support growth.

Opponents call it the "Potomac River Pipeline" because it would run underneath the river, with the potential of affecting the drinking water in and around Washington, D.C.

Rianna Eckel, a Maryland organizer for the group Food and Water Watch, said reliance on fossil fuels is moving backwards from a healthier environment.

"We believe that further investing in pipeline infrastructure, natural-gas infrastructure, locks us into a system where we are then dependent on fossil fuels," she said.

Food and Water Watch called on Gov. Larry Hogan to begin an investigation into whether the pipeline would negatively affect water quality, but the governor declined. Emergency legislation has been filed in Annapolis to require that the more extensive Water Quality Certification be conducted, and currently is in the House Rules Committee.

If the legislation doesn't pass, only the federal government would have the ability to halt the pipeline's progress.

Environmental groups are worried about the method known as horizontal directional drilling that TransCanada would use to dig under the Potomac. They have said that on previous pipelines, thousands of gallons of drilling fuel leaked into water sources. In this case, Eckel said, that would affect millions of local residents.

"The Potomac River is the main drinking-water supply of more than 6 million people who live downstream," she said, "so anything that happens to that water can quickly impact the drinking water of almost 6 million people."

The pipeline would connect with the Mountain Valley Pipeline that begins in northwestern West Virginia, which also has been the subject of recent protests by environmental groups.

Information about House Bill 1826 is online at mgaleg.maryland.gov.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD