Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit From Columbia Gas

The company is  trying to bring an underground pipeline through western Maryland.


Baltimore, Md (KM) A ruling from a federal judge on Wednesday shoots down plans by Columbia Gas to build an underground pipeline in western Maryland. The ruling from US District Court Judge George Russell dismisses  a lawsuit from the company which wanted to use eminent domain to construct across three miles wets of Hancock.

“I think there’s a big victory for everyone in Maryland, I would say, and maybe even beyond Maryland,” says Denise Robbins, the Communications Director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Committee, one of many organizations that fought against this project.

Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada, wants to construct the pipeline to carry natural gas obtained through fracking from the company’s network in Pennsylvania to the proposed Mountaineer Gas’ distribution center in West Virginia. When the Mountaineer project is completed, it would be hooked up to a $30-million natural gas pipeline from Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg, which would double the natural gas output in the area.

The line would go under the Potomac River, and the C&O Canal Towpath.

In January, the Board of Public Works, whose members consists of the Governor, Comptroller and State Treasurer, voted unanimously to deny Columbia Gas’ request to build the pipeline on public land. The company appealed that decision to the federal court.

Robbins says it was wrong for Columbia to use eminent domain to obtain a right of way to build the natural gas pipeline. “There was a huge risk of a private fossil fuel company trying to steal public land to build a pipeline after the state said no,” she said.

“State’s rights were upheld today,” Robbins continues. “Democracy won. We vote for legislators to protect us, and our elected did that. The Hogan Administration said no to that request. And their right to do so was upheld.”

But Robbins acknowledges Columbia Gas could appeal the decision to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. “If the higher court is paying any attention at all, they will see that the case for Maryland to have the right to not let companies tunnel underneath our land, they’ll know that that judgment is sound and will uphold that. We feel pretty confident that will be the case,” she says.

The project has been opposed by environmental groups and citizens, which argue that it could adversely affect the environment.. They say if a pipe burst, it would contaminate drinking water. In addition, opponents say the are has karst geology which is porous and unstable, and prone to collapse.

Columbia Gas contends the pipeline is safe, and noted that project has been scrutinized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources. They all says with proper design and construction, the project can be completed in an environmentally sound and responsible manner.



By Kevin McManus