Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who signed a state-wide fracking ban last year, has yet to deny the permit for a pipeline that would transport fracked gas under the Potomac River — and time is running out
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore. Energy giant, TransCanada, known for their Keystone XL Pipeline, is proposing a fracked gas pipeline that would run through Maryland under the Potomac River. Well, the same day that hundreds of people encircled Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s mansion to demand he reject Trans Canada’s proposal, Maryland officials have asked the Army Corp of Engineers not to issue a permit for this pipeline until the state completes a full environmental review. Last year, Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, surprised many when he signed a statewide fracking ban into effect. Critics say that allowing this pipeline would go against the spirit of that move. Now joining us to talk about all this is Brooke Harper. Brooke is Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s Maryland Policy Director. She also chairs the Environmental Justice Committee of NAACP Maryland’s State Conference. Thanks so much for coming on today, Brooke.
BROOKE HARPER: Thank you for having me.
DHARNA NOOR: Brooke, Maryland’s Department of Environment or MDE, as they’re known, released this letter on Thursday asking the Army Corp of Engineers to withhold the permit for the pipeline. It’s called the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project. Until MDE can propose, “Special conditions for inclusion in the Corp’s authorization.” Does this mean that your action yesterday was a success? What’s your response to all of this?
BROOKE HARPER: Our response to MDE has, we’re glad that MDE is taking steps to do a more thorough review and to consider all the impacts that this pipeline would have. But the citizens across Maryland and across West Virginia have been asking for MDE and Governor Hogan to do his job and to do a full thorough 401 in order, because we believe that if they look at the full impact that this pipeline would have, they’d ultimately oppose it, and realize that it’s not worth the risk, and of no benefit to Marylanders to drill underneath the Potomac River. And so, we don’t see this as a victory yet. We see it as a delay and a response to the public pressure and outcry that we’ve been putting on them for over a year, but that it’s not a done deal and they still need to require TransCanada to do a 401 and ultimately reject and oppose this pipeline, and keep Maryland frack-free.
DHARNA NOOR: TransCanada says that this pipeline would be completely safe. Let’s take a look at this clip from an informational video that they produced about this proposed pipeline.
SPEAKER: HDD is a trenchless method of installing pipelines underneath water bodies, roads, railways, buildings and other structures. It is an environmentally friendly method used across sensitive areas that significantly reduces impact to the land above the drilling site and surrounding communities. Construction impacts during all phases of the HDD are minimized by the use of temporary wetland mats. Wetland mats are laid down on top of the bore area for crews and equipment to work on during construction.
DHARNA NOOR: So here, TransCanada is saying that this process is safe. They even say it’s environmentally friendly. They mention that the method is trenchless and that they would use wetland mats. Does any of this make a real difference?
BROOKE HARPER: No, it doesn’t make a real difference. If we look at Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they’ve had horrific spills. In Ohio, they’ve had over 146,000 gallons of drilling fluid that was just lost down a hole last month, and prior to that they had two million gallons of drilling fluid spill into wetlands using the same horizontal directional drilling method. In Pennsylvania, with the Sunoco Mariner II Pipeline, we’ve seen drilling fluid spilled three times at the same site.
Unfortunately, Governor Hogan, and the MDE administration, and his administration have exempted oversight for the state and for TransCanada for the drilling that will occur underneath the Potomac River. Our state’s not policing them. TransCanada certainly has not been a good neighbor and won’t police itself, as we’ve seen in South Dakota, and it’s just left in the hands, our safety and our drinking water, is just being left in the hand of Trump administration officials with FERC and some of the Army Corp of Engineers.
DHARNA NOOR: So, TransCanada also says though, that this pipeline would be good for the area because it would create jobs and boost the economy in the Eastern Panhandle District of West Virginia. What’s your response to these claims? Because many agreed that that part of West Virginia really does need an economic boost, so what’s your response to the way that they’re saying that they’re going to do that?
BROOKE HARPER: That is absolutely untrue. Recently, a few months ago we were at a meeting where we had representatives talk about the economic benefits of this pipeline. Yet, those officials couldn’t name a single company that had left the area or refused to settle in the area because they didn’t have access to natural gas. West Virginia University recently came out with an economic study that said the Eastern Panhandle had one of the fastest growing economic regions throughout the state. They did that without natural gas. I want to continue to see, they’re my neighbor right across the road from Washington County. Continue to see small businesses thrive, their ecotourism businesses thrive, and they can do that all without a frack gas pipeline.
DHARNA NOOR: Your organization says that this pipeline will threaten the drinking water source of millions. How? How could this pipeline pollute drinking water?
BROOKE HARPER: Well, it’s an immediate threat for 100,000 residents in Washington County, just like myself who we don’t have a lot of additional backup water sources and our primary concern is what can happen during construction. We don’t want to be the next Ohio or Pennsylvania to see our water contaminated by spills that happen during the construction of this pipeline.
DHARNA NOOR: Talk a little bit more about the other effects that this pipeline could have and then who in the areas it crosses could be most affected by those affects?
BROOKE HARPER: Those areas would be Washington and Berkeley County. On the Mountaineer Gas side, they just had their stormwater runoff permit approved. Unfortunately, they didn’t look at a lot of the things that they needed to consider, like what kind of drilling would be done at waterways and different wetland crossings. How would stream restoration be done? So, there’s a danger to us if something happens on the Mountaineer Gas side, as well as a danger if something happens on the Maryland side with the construction on the Potomac River. So, we really just see it as quite an immediate threat to families not only living in the blast zone if there were to be a pipeline explosion or leak, but our primary concern is during construction, since these projects are being looked at separately and not as a whole, what would the impacts be if there was a spill or leak either on West Virginia or the Maryland side of this and how would those residents be notified and impacted?
DHARNA NOOR: A lot of people are noting that Hogan’s supported this statewide fracking ban. He also says that he supports the Paris Climate Agreement. Would approving this new pipeline contradict some of those stances?
BROOKE HARPER: I think this is just another contradiction in a long line of Hogan’s contradictions. In 2016, he passed a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act and touted that, but then he vetoed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would’ve helped us to meet those greenhouse gas reduction goals. He just signed the Paris Climate Accord and now he’s also doing a massive frack gas expansion of infrastructure throughout our state. I just see this as another way of him flip-flopping and being a green Governor name only, but not with his actions.
DHARNA NOOR: So, Brooke, in an email comment from the MDE, from Ben Grumbles actually, Ben Grumbles said, “Yesterday, I sent a letter requesting the Army Corp not to complete its review until we complete ours and have the change to propose special conditions for the Corp’s authorization,” and he goes on, “In keeping with the Hogan administration’s strong commitment to environmental protection and climate change progress, we will insist that any pipeline be subject to stringent environmental safeguards to protect Maryland’s environment, including the Potomac River, at all times.” What’s your response to this review process? What do you think will be in this review process and what do you sort of hope to see?
BROOKE HARPER: We don’t know what this review will look like. We don’t know what MDE is going to require and it’s the same, it’s more of the lack of transparency and lack of public notification. We don’t know if it will be what we’ve been requesting all of this time, which is a full thorough 401 review. That hasn’t been specified by the Hogan administration.
DHARNA NOOR: Then after that review process, do you have hope that the permit will be rejected? Is there a chance that it will be?
BROOKE HARPER: We’re hoping that the legal method that the state has to reject this pipeline is, their legal avenue is the 401 certification. So, Governor Hogan and the MDE would need to request that of TransCanada, and that’s the states legal avenue that they could do to deny this pipeline. So, if they don’t do that, I just see this as more smoke and mirrors to look like they’re responding to the public outcry, but instead just delaying.
DHARNA NOOR: If not, then what sort of happens next? What’s the next course of action to prevent this pipeline from being built?
BROOKE HARPER: Well, I think we’re doing the best we can on the ground. I think activists are still trying to figure out what is Secretary Grumbles and the Hogan administration, what does this review entail. So, I think it’s finding out more about that. Then just continuing to educate our communities, continuing to get local municipalities to urge Governor Hogan to do the right thing and stop the frack gas pipeline. I know others may be considering what are the recourses for landowners in West Virginia and how can we help them. They’ve started to clear trees on the West Virginia side and to do that. So, I think activists will continue to fight for their landowners over in West Virginia and we’ll continue to pressure Governor Hogan here to keep his fracking promise, and ultimately to deny the Potomac Pipeline.
DHARNA NOOR: All right, Brooke. Well, as efforts keep going, just please keep us in the loop.
BROOKE HARPER: Sure thing. Thank you so much for having me.
DHARNA NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.