Brent Walls is the Upper Potomac riverkeeper.
In 2017, environmental advocates in Maryland and across the country applauded Gov. Larry Hogan (R) when he banned the harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, for natural gas in Maryland. We were proud of his leadership in recognizing the dangers to the environment and to residents where fracking would occur. We hoped the issue was dead in Maryland and other states would follow our lead. But Columbia Gas Transmission, owned by an international energy conglomerate headquartered in Canada, has filed a lawsuit against Maryland to condemn land owned by Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources to build a pipeline to ship fracked gas across the state.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia still allow fracking and, because of the profits, Columbia Gas Transmission and other gas companies have sought to use natural gas from those states, which they would need to ship through pipelines under the Potomac River and across both state and federal lands.
As the Upper Potomac riverkeeper, I worked with an incredibly broad array of citizens, environmentalists and state and local elected officials to stop the Potomac Pipeline after Columbia Gas Transmission proposed it three years ago. The construction of the pipeline posed serious risks of irreversible damage to the Potomac River from drilling accidents, as well as threatening drinking wells from leakage of chemicals used in drilling. Columbia Gas Transmission would need to get enforced easements across family farms, some of which had been in the same family for generations; once the pipeline was built, those farms would be permanently affected. And there is always the risk of pipeline leaks and explosions.
All these harms and dangers would be suffered by Marylanders who would never even use the natural gas. The pipeline simply would provide cheap energy for the controversial and polluting Rockwool plant being built in West Virginia.
And we thought we had succeeded. Hogan, as a member of Maryland’s Board of Public Works, again showed leadership in his vote to deny an easement across public land for the pipeline. By the way, that decision was unanimous.
But Columbia Gas Transmission won’t quit. Its condemnation lawsuit against Maryland is nothing more than an attempt to override a decision made by state leaders, elected by the citizens of Maryland. The governor and the other members of the Board of Public Works acted in our best interests, environmentally and economically, when they said “No” to the Potomac Pipeline. And now, Columbia Gas Transmission is bullying the state by legal action.
I am counting on Hogan to continue to lead on this issue, and fight Columbia Gas Transmission’s unprecedented attack on Maryland’s authority over its own land. Don’t let non-Marylanders try to tell us that profits from a dangerous pipeline that doesn’t benefit us at all are more important than our safety, our health and our precious natural resources.