EPA Bay Projects pet journolists at the Bay Journal: Natural gas pipeline was a long shot in Eastern Shore county — until state help arrived and they're not very happy about it.
With only a handful of large employers and Maryland’s highest poverty rate, Somerset County has come up empty for years in its efforts to attract a natural gas pipeline, which county officials view as the key to unlocking its economic potential.
Now, though, a pipeline is just a few regulatory steps away from construction in the county. What changed? Not the private sector. The county’s economic activity is as sluggish as ever. What’s new is a lucrative public lifeline — a 20-year contract to supply natural gas-fired energy to two huge state-owned enterprises: a historically Black university and a state prison.
The state’s financial interests in the Del-Mar Energy Pathway pipeline top the list of questions being raised by environmental groups about the Eastern Shore project.
“I don’t think driving down the utility bills at a state penitentiary is a compelling enough benefit to put my family at risk or to put at risk the waters that my grandfather tonged oysters in,” Robin Cockey, an attorney and former Salisbury city councilman, said at a recent hearing on the pipeline.
The project also has drawn scrutiny for potential environmental damage to wetlands and streams during construction, the possibility of the pipeline leaking and its reliance on gas obtained from controversial hydraulic fracturing.
The project aims to bury a 10-inch pipe from near downtown Salisbury in Wicomico County southward to the community of Eden just beyond the Somerset boundary; the second phase will continue south with an 8-inch pipe past Princess Anne, where it will serve the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and onward to the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover. Most of the work will take place in the existing right-of-way along Route 13 and a rail line — which, the project’s advocates say, should reduce harm to the environment.
“I’d love to be able to see a future where we have energy that is produced that doesn’t harm or kill people,” said Josh Hastings, a Wicomico County Council member. “I do not want a future with more chemical inundation on our society.”
The nearly 19-mile conduit will be the first natural gas link in Somerset County, one of only three Maryland counties that lack access to the fuel source. Smaller branches will eventually carry gas to hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and businesses along the route, including in the county seat of Princess Anne.
“We need this for economic growth. It’s just hard to compete with counities that have natural gas, because they can offer their companies a much cheaper product to run their business,” said Randy Laird, a representative on the Board of County Commissioners.
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