Maryland official weighs special conditions on pipeline

Special conditions to address concerns about water quality may be justified for a proposed natural gas pipeline, a Maryland official wrote Thursday, as opponents to the project came to rally at the governor's residence.

Ben Grumbles, head of the Maryland Department of the Environment, sent a letter Thursday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Grumbles, a Cabinet secretary for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, asked the agency to withhold its determination on the application until the department has a chance to propose special conditions to be included in the Corps' recommendations.

Grumbles noted that the public has raised some concerns about the impact of this project on the environment and public health. He also wrote that his department has "identified potential water quality and public interest factors that may justify the imposition of special conditions on the Corps' authorization."

"Accordingly, I respectfully request that the Corps withhold its determination on the application until MDE has had an opportunity to propose special conditions for inclusion in the Corps' authorization," Grumbles wrote.

The 3.4-mile project would connect a TransCanada pipeline in Pennsylvania to Mountaineer Gas line in West Virginia. It would run through Maryland and under the Potomac River. Opponents say it could affect drinking water for millions.

Opponents from western Maryland came to the state capital on buses for the rally. They carried light-up signs in what they were calling the "march on the mansion."

Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he found Grumbles' request to be "confusing and unclear."

"We want a delay on this pipeline," Tidwell, who was participating in the rally, said. "We want true transparency. We want full public hearings and full public comments on how this pipeline would affect drinking water and water quality throughout the state."

Opponents say a gas leak could taint local aquifers and the Potomac, a drinking-water source for downstream communities including Washington, D.C. The line would cross the river near Hancock, a town of about 1,500 about 120 miles (190 kilometers) upstream from Washington.

Representatives of the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, have said it would be constantly monitored and that many other pipelines already cross the river safely.