HANCOCK, Md. – Environmental activists crowded a TransCanada open house Thursday in western Maryland, blocking access to displays about the company’s proposed pipeline beneath the Potomac River to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.
Protest leaders pledged a sustained campaign against the project, planned by the same Canadian energy company behind the disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Russell Mokhiber of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, told the peaceful protesters they can defeat the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project by making their concerns about potential leaks known to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission once TransCanada files its application in March.
“We’re going to defeat this pipeline and move on to a better world with solar energy,” Mokhiber said after leading scores of demonstrators in singing, “Down to the River to Pray,” in the community room of the Hancock Town Hall.
TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said it was unfortunate that people curious about the project had difficulty reaching company executives stationed at seven tables around the room. He said the pipeline, 72 feet below the river bed, would support growth in the region by increasing a gas supply that is nearing capacity due partly to a Procter & Gamble manufacturing plant under construction near Tabler Station, West Virginia.
“We’re looking to have conversations with people in the community who want questions answered by our experts,” Castleman said.
The 3.4-mile project would connect a TransCanada pipeline in Pennsylvania to a Mountaineer Gas line in West Virginia by late 2018.
Opponents say a gas leak could taint local aquifers and the Potomac, a drinking-water source for downstream communities including Washington, D.C.
The project will require permits from the state of Maryland, which owns the Potomac, and the National Park Service since the pipeline also would run beneath the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The canal parallels the river for nearly 185 miles from Washington to Cumberland. The line would cross the river near Hancock, a town of about 1,500 about 120 miles upstream from Washington.
The Keystone XL project would extend from Canada’s tar sands through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing Keystone pipeline route to carry crude oil to specialized refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Obama administration rejected the company’s State Department permit application, citing climate-change concerns, but President Donald Trump has invited TransCanada to reapply.