In 2016, behind the scenes, without public input, a West Virginia gas company called Mountaineer Gas quietly laid the groundwork for a fracked gas pipeline that would threaten the Potomac River and the National Park Service’s C&O Canal, one of the most visited national parks. Residents in Morgan County, WV became aware of the pipeline proposal only after landmen requested access to properties for routing of the pipeline. Mountaineer Gas began bullying residents with ultimatums and eminent domain after receiving conditional approval from the WV Public Service Commission to route their gas line. The route proposed would cross five streams, all of which is in Karst geology. Karst geology is limestone that can rapidly dissolve and form pathways between the surface and groundwater, including streams. Pipelines do leak and in Karst geology pose a risk to private wells, cause stream contamination and stream flow loss, and develop sinkholes that can threaten the integrity of the pipeline.
The proposal Mountaineer Gas submitted to WV Public Service Commission is for construction of a multi-million dollar pipeline from an existing line in the Martinsburg area west to Berkeley Springs and east to Jefferson County. This pipeline is contingent on the approval and construction of a TransCanada gas pipeline from Pennsylvania. The TransCanada gas pipeline would route south from Bedford, PA to Hancock, MD, under the C&O Canal and Potomac River, finally ending in the Berkeley Springs, WV area. Columbia Gas is currently communicating with the National Park Service to be granted a right-of-way access to drill under Park property.
There is a real risk of this combined pipeline project to the Potomac River, the drinking water source for over 6 million people, and a risk to several high quality West Virginia streams and to private property in both Maryland and West Virginia.
Mountaineer Gas Pipeline
Mountaineer Gas works exclusively in West Virginia and therefore does not have federal oversight of this pipeline proposal. Once the route is secured, the pipeline has to receive a 401 state certification permit, a 404 ACOE permit, and state regulatory permits and authorizations. Mountaineer Gas has recently received authorization to proceed after an appeal of their application modification. Because the modification was perceived to be minor, public notice of the process was not initiated. However, Mountaineer Gas describes the pipeline as a distribution line mostly catering to two large companies. The distribution line would be a “redundant” line, essentially, a back-up gas line. This pipeline is contingent on the completion of the TransCanada gas line, which has yet to submit an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
FERC’s One-sided Approach
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has a history of downplaying potential environmental damage and property rights as they analyze natural gas pipeline development projects. The TransCanada pipeline will fall under FERC jurisdiction since it crosses state lines. The project will involve numerous stream crossings, cross land that is geologically vulnerable to spills and unnecessarily threaten the source of drinking water for millions of people.
On October 4th, environmental groups, including Potomac Riverkeeper Network, filed a motion to intervene in the Mountaineer Gas appeal. Our intention was to bring the potential of environmental damage into the case. In addition, the community gathered and submitted over 60 letters of protest to the proposed gas line. On October 23rd, over 50 people gathered in Hancock to protest the pipeline.
Upper Potomac Riverkeeper and groups in West Virginia ran a success letter writing campaign targeted at the National Park Service to demand that the NPS make the right-of-way permit request from TransCanada a public process. The NPS responded by delaying a response to TransCanada’s request and promising to incorporate public participation in any consideration of the pipeline project. On February 9, 2017, TransCanada held an informational session in Hancock and over a 100 people participated in a “silent protest.”