Despite setbacks and cancellations to some high-profile natural gas pipelines, a project on the Delmarva Peninsula has overcome strong resistance to gain the go-ahead from Maryland officials.
The Board of Public Works, presided over by Gov. Larry Hogan, on Jan. 27 unanimously approved a permit allowing Delaware-based Chesapeake Utilities to bore under three waterways. The company is extending an 8-inch-diameter pipeline 11 miles into Somerset County from existing lines in Wicomico County and southern Delaware.
The state signed a contract with the company in 2019 to supply natural gas to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, which currently relies on fuel oil and propane, and the Eastern Correctional Institution, which uses wood chips. The change in fuel source is expected to reduce carbon emissions nearly 40% at the historically Black university and 65% at the state prison, officials say.
Business and civic leaders in Somerset have long lobbied for natural gas in the hope it will spark an infusion of new businesses. It is one of three counties in the state that lacks access to the fuel source.
“Residents and businesses along the line will soon have the choice to use environmentally beneficial and less expensive natural gas service,” Chesapeake Utilities spokesman Justin Mulcahy said in a statement. “This project will help bring prosperity to Somerset County, and we are grateful for the outpouring of support the project has received from the community.”
At a hearing in early December, the Board of Public Works signed off on a wetland permit for a northerly segment of the same pipeline, but not before a flood of speakers, most opposed to the project, kept the hearing going for more than three hours.
Environmentalists contend that the project will expose residents near the pipeline to potential toxic leaks and explosions. They also say the move contradicts the state’s goal of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and its ban on hydraulic fracturing within the state — although none of the gas supplied to the county will come from Maryland.
“I think [environmentalists] are right that natural gas and fossil fuels are on their way out, and we’re going to get to a renewable future with zero emissions,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the board’s other two members, along with Treasurer Nancy Kopp. But Somerset residents and businesses “don’t have access to natural gas like everyone else in the state does, and I think we have to recognize the incremental process we’re going through here.”