Board of Public Works approves natural gas pipeline permit

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Dec. 2, 2020)—The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of a wetlands license for 76 feet of drilling under the Wicomico River to extend a natural gas pipeline on the Eastern Shore.

The approximately 7-mile-long pipeline was proposed in order to keep up with growing agricultural, business, and residential use and will run from Salisbury in Wicomico County to near Princess Anne in Somerset County.

Institutions that are planned to be included in its use are the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and the Eastern Correctional Institution, which are using wood chips and other fossil fuels.

Environmental and racial-justice groups unsuccessfully lobbied the panel—including the comptroller, treasurer and lieutenant governor, sitting in for Gov. Larry Hogan, R—to reject the pipeline permit.

"Although Wednesday's vote does not guarantee the pipeline will be built, it does signal that opponents of the project—including the NAACP and Chesapeake Climate Action Network—are running out of options for fighting it," the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said in a press release after the vote Wednesday.

The plan, proposed by the Eastern Shore Natural Gas Co., included annual compensation of $190 to be given to the Maryland Department of the Environment Wetlands and Waterways Program Fund.

According to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, environmentalists are against the project and are concerned that the pipeline will affect 1,239 square feet of streams and over 30,000 square feet of wetlands and buffers.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, D, said he received around 4,000 emails opposing the project.

"At a time when clean, renewable energy is affordable and abundant, we shouldn't be building dirty, dangerous fracked gas pipelines," said Susan Olsen, chair of the Sierra Club's Lower Eastern Shore Group in a press release. "Our state should reject the Eastern Shore fracked gas pipelines—the health of Maryland's water, economy, and people depends on it."

Natural gas has lower global warming emissions from combustion compared to coal or oil.

Heidi Anderson, president of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, said she supports the pipeline and the move toward clean energy, and said the school has taken on solar and geothermal energy within the past few years. The money that will be saved from the transition to natural gas will be put toward renewable energy projects, said Anderson.

She said the move toward natural gas from "dirty" burning fuel will be a step forward in a more eco-friendly path.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said carbon emission levels have decreased in Maryland because of the transition from burning fuel to natural gas.

The pipeline will begin in Somerset County, the poorest county in Maryland, where natural gas has yet to be available.

"I agree with the testimonies that the folks in Somerset need something now, not five years from now," said Franchot. "The fact that Somerset County has not had access to natural gas is quite frankly an economic injustice to the residents that live there."

In 2017, Hogan signed a bill to permanently ban fracking in Maryland.

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