Judge Halts Work On Maryland Pipeline Due To Environmental Concerns

Welders work on a gas pipeline in Virginia.
Welders work on a gas pipeline in Virginia/Photo by Matthew Thorn, Flickr

By Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress

Construction on a natural gas pipeline set to run through Maryland has been halted after a judge found that the state hadn’t done enough to protect the environment and hadn’t given residents enough of a chance to weigh in on the project.

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Justin J. King ruled last week that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) must go back and revise the permit it issued for the 21-mile pipeline, which is being constructed by Columbia Pipeline Group and is slated to run through Baltimore and Harford counties. According to the judge’s ruling, the permit’s water safety requirements were too general, “rendering it impossible for this court to determine whether the permit complies with state and federal water quality regulations.”

In addition, King wrote, the permit didn’t allow enough time for public input, and there wasn’t enough evidence that Maryland took a close enough look at how the project would affect historic sites. Construction on the pipeline, which is about halfway complete, has been temporarily halted. It will only resume after the state revisits the permit or, in the case of an appeal, if the ruling is overturned.

Environmentalists in Maryland, who have been warning of the danger the pipeline poses to the state’s waterways, applauded the judge’s move. The pipeline, as it’s permitted, would cross over 70 streams. Thirty-nine of those streams feed into the Loch Raven Reservoir, which provides water to most of Baltimore County, including the city of Baltimore.

Local environmental group Gunpowder Riverkeeper and three individuals filed for judicial review of the project, and these filings were consolidated into the case heard by Judge King.

King’s ruling “will eventually have MDE and Columbia go back through and make this permit more protective of the waterway resources we’re advocating for,” Theaux M. Le Gardeur, head of Gunpowder Riverkeeper, told the Baltimore Sun. “I can’t really tell folks where the pipeline should go, but if they do put it in, they should put it in in the right way.”

MDE is still reviewing the case and figuring out how it will proceed, a spokesman told the Baltimore Sun. The state agency could appeal the case if it doesn’t choose to revisit the pipeline’s permit.

In general, natural gas pipelines have fewer significant onshore accidents than pipelines carrying substances like crude oil and jet fuel, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust. However, that doesn’t mean they never leak: this week, a leak was reported at a TransCanada natural gas pipeline in Alberta, Canada.

And even if they don’t spill as frequently, natural gas pipelines are more likely to have serious incidents — ones resulting in death or hospitalization — than other pipelines. Many of these accidents come in the form of explosions: last February, a natural gas pipeline blast in Kentucky leveled homes and caused multiple fires, and last January, a TransCanada natural gas pipeline explosion shut off gas supplies for thousands of residents in Manitoba, Canada.

Still, there are multiple natural gas pipelines that have either been proposed or are already in the works around the country. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas line that would run through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, has drawn considerable opposition in the states it would impact — ten people were arrested in February protesting the pipeline. The Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, has also garnered opposition.

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