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Refuses to Consider Risk of Spill to Drinking Water for Six Million

Washington, DC – January 29 – Potomac Riverkeeper Network is calling on the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) to deny a state Nontidal Wetlands Permit for the controversial Potomac pipeline, after learning that MDE purposely exempted environmental review of impacts to the Potomac and Little Tonoloway Creek from this permit process. By doing this, MDE has misled the public and allowed this project to avoid critical state permit requirements, in spite of potential risks to the Potomac as the source of drinking water for six million people downstream, which are the primary concern of the public and PRKN. PRKN excoriated MDE for its failure to consider the drilling beneath the Potomac River and the economic impact on Washington County and Maryland in general. “It is inconceivable that MDE, the governmental authority we as citizens should be able to rely on for our safety, is completely abdicating its responsibilities in this way. For months, we have been attending public hearings hosted by the MDE to express our concerns about the impact of the Potomac Pipeline and never once did the representatives of MDE tell us that they weren’t considering the impact of drilling under the Potomac,” said Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper.

PRKN has determined that at a closed-door meeting in 2016 before the Application for the Potomac Pipeline was filed by Columbia Gas (now Transcanada), MDE and Transcanada agreed the underground crossing of the Potomac River using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) did not require a permit or analysis. As a result, the Nontidal Permit application focused only on a single wetland and six small streams and failed to consider the risks or impacts of drilling under the river.

“MDE is relying on a baseless and absurd assumption that there will be no impacts from the use of HDD drilling, and in doing so, ignores the reality of HDD drilling accidents over the past several years that have fouled streams, destroyed wetlands and contaminated drinking water supplies.  In fact, just yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Rover Pipeline LLC to stop drilling under the Tuscarawas River in Ohio, after regulators discovered repeated spills and loss of HDD fluid at the drilling site. Considering the ecologic and public health value of the Potomac River, it defies logic that MDE would not require the assessment of the potential impact to the Potomac River of an accident which could result from this drilling,” said Phillip Musegaas, PRKN Vice President of Programs and Litigation.

The Potomac provides clean drinking water to over 6 million people in the D.C. metropolitan area downstream of the proposed drilling route under the river.

In addition, PRKN noted that MDE is also required to consider economic value of the Pipeline in meeting a demonstrated public need in Maryland generally and the residents of Washington County specifically. However, the Application did not provide nor did MDE insist on such an analysis. In fact, Maryland receives no benefit but bears all the risk of streams polluted by construction sediment and the Potomac River. Any benefits from the Potomac Pipeline solely accrue to producers of fracked gas in Pennsylvania and possibly the users of gas in West Virginia.

“MDE is complicit with Transcanada in the gross deficiencies in the Application and the approval process and has utterly failed to meet its regulatory responsibility and is attempting to set a dangerous and reckless precedent that puts all of Maryland’s waters at risk,” Musegaas concluded.

About Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Potomac Riverkeeper Network is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization with three regional Waterkeeper branches: Potomac Riverkeeper, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper and Shenandoah Riverkeeper. Our mission is to protect the public’s right to clean water in our rivers and streams. We stop pollution to promote safe drinking water, protect healthy habitats, and enhance public use and enjoyment.

Read the full letter of PRKN’s comments to MDE here.