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Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project Gains Maryland Wetlands Permit

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has issued a wetlands and waterways permit for Columbia Gas Transmission LLC's Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project, the latest in a recent spate of regulatory hurdles cleared by the TransCanada Corp. subsidiary.

"MDE undertook a science-based review of the project," which would include construction of about 3.5 miles of eight-inch diameter pipeline running from Pennsylvania, through Maryland and under the Potomac River to West Virginia, MDE said in a letter sent to FERC last Friday [CP17-80]. Plans also call for constructing three mainline valves and two tie-in assemblies.

The project would provide an additional 47.5 million Dth/d of capacity for firm transportation service to markets in West Virginia through the gathering system of Mountaineer Gas Co.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 issued a general permit for the projects in Maryland, which included a Water Quality Certification from MDE under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The state wetlands and waterways permit issued for the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project includes additional safeguards and conditions specific to the proposed project. MDE requested that the Army Corps and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission include the special conditions in any authorizations issued for this project.

The additional environmental conditions include safeguards related to protecting drinking water, limits on horizontal directional drilling and more, according to MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles.

"Our state permit is strong and balanced, adding almost two dozen environmental conditions, many of which go above and beyond what the Army Corps and FERC would typically include, while also recognizing that natural gas has a role in meeting state and regional energy needs," Grumbles said. "The bottom line is that this pipeline will not get built if the applicant doesn't comply with our many requirements, regardless of what the federal agencies ultimately decide."

The proposed pipeline is to originate in Fulton County, PA, at an interconnection with an existing Columbia Gas Transmission LLC pipeline, just north of the border with Maryland. It then would traverse Washington County, MD -- near its narrowest point between Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- before crossing the Potomac River and ending in Morgan County, WV.

Columbia Pipeline Group Inc., which was acquired by TransCanada in 2016, filed an application with FERC for the project one year ago. The company expects to begin construction next month and have the pipeline in service in October.

An environmental assessment of the project, first announced by FERC last April, was completed by FERC staff in January. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection granted the project a water quality certificate last month.

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