On July 31, Rockwool Ranson announced on its Facebook page that their melting furnace would be fueled by gas alone, not by the coal and gas mixture described in their permit. The announcement stated, “Mountaineer Gas will supply the gas via the existing pipeline infrastructure, which is already completed and well-functioning. This conversion will not require natural gas truck deliveries to the factory.”
Eastern Panhandle Protectors is a local watchdog group. They have kept busy monitoring progress on the Mountaineer Gas line over the past couple of years, and they questioned that statement. To complete the gas line, Mountaineer Gas would need to drill horizontally under the Opequon Creek, using a process similar to the one planned for the Potomac River and rejected by the Maryland Board of Public Works in January 2019. The permit was applied for on May 26, 2020 and it seemed impossible that this project could already be complete.
Members of EPP and Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition put their heads together. How to find out the truth? With the current run of hot weather, a float trip past the work site was the obvious solution.
On a sultry afternoon, 10 dedicated activists set off in a flotilla of assorted canoes, kayaks, and tubes. With a gauge height of 2.8, the pace was relaxed, with just a few riffles. Using reasonable care, paddlers could avoid getting beached on sandbars. A few folks opted to walk the route, collecting an impressive assortment of trash along the way.
A couple of miles downstream, we arrived at the work site. Freshly erected plastic silt barriers made the spot easy to find. A couple of folks stepped onto the shore, sinking into several inches of thick, mucky dark brown mud. This gunk was nothing like the light brown sand of the creek bottom, and it gave us the first clue that some work had been done at the site.
In search of the men’s room, one paddler made his way up the bank and around the plastic barrier, to find that a trench had been dug, filled in, and seeded with new grass that was beginning to sprout. Another paddler attempted to explore the opposite bank, but found nothing but nettles that stung his legs ferociously. Neither side showed any signs of site preparation for the horizontal drilling operation.
It’s clear that the planned pipeline infrastructure is not complete. This project is barely started, and the Potomac drilling project is unlikely to come to fruition.
After a photo op with a huge banner that an artistic activist had spent most of Saturday night creating, we continued down the stream, hitting a long run of riffles –a refreshing end to our afternoon of sleuthing. It was a tough job, as they say, but somebody had to do it. ~submitted by Aileen Curfman, for The Opequon Watershed
(UPDATE: A member of Eastern Panhandle Protectors reported the next day that “workers were at Salvation Drive today, about a 1/2 mile upstream from the crossing spot, unloading heavy equipment.”)