Community members including kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers gathered at the side of Dominion Energy Cove Point’s proposed Charles Station fracked gas compressor station early this morning while a person on a tractor blocked the driveway to prevent tree-cutters from continuing to do irreversible harm to the 13.3 acres of forest, which includes habitat of the endangered northern long-eared bat. It is the second protest at the site in a week.
The blockade, which lasted approximately four hours, was representative of the obstacle first responders might face if they needed to access the site after a heavy rain, snow, or wind storm, when it might be impossible to reach because of flooding, downed trees, or deep snow. Already in 2018 the road has flooded more than once, and trees and power lines have gone down near Dominion’s driveway.
The community is calling on the Charles County Board of Appeals to protect them from the dangerous and unwarranted Charles Station compressor station. The Charles Station proposal is a key link between Pennsylvanian fracking fields and what is becoming a sprawling network of fracked gas infrastructure in Southern Maryland, including the Cove Point export terminal and several power plants. If built, it would not benefit the people who would be forced to shoulder a huge amount of risk.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, but at least two levels of permission remain to be secured. The FERC approval cannot override the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), should MDE decide to deny the air quality permit for the project. MDE cannot deny or grant the permit if the Charles County Board of Appeals rules against Dominion’s zoning special-exception application. Therefore, the Board of Appeals is in a unique position to protect residents.
Much has been made of the FERC’s power of preemption over local decision-making, but it is not an automatic process. In fact, it would likely involve a lengthy court battle. Indeed, FERC cannot preempt the MDE at all.
By beginning work on the project without final approval, “Dominion is thumbing its nose at Charles County’s Board of Appeals, which has not yet ruled on Dominion Energy’s application for a zoning special exception to build a compressor station on the Dominion Cove Point Pipeline,” said Kelly Canavan of Accokeek and president of the AMP Creeks Council. The next Board of Appeals hearing is tomorrow night. Community members are angry that Dominion refused to hold off until local and state processes are allowed to unfold, and before irreparable harm is done to the ecosystem on Barry’s Hill Road.
The community has overwhelmingly expressed outrage at the danger that a fracked gas compressor station would bring. Residents worry about the possibility of a catastrophic event such as a fire or explosion. While local first responders have the community’s deep respect, fighting a fire would be extremely difficult at the project site because the closest fire hydrant is about a mile and a half away. Through no fault of their own, responders are not equipped to fight a fire of the magnitude that might occur at the compressor station if it is built.
Residents are also worried about the long-term effects of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants that would be emitted from the plant, affecting residents up to thirty miles away. “I have lived here – my favorite place on earth – for my entire life. If that compressor station is built, I will be forced to move to protect my family rather than see us slowly poisoned or rapidly incinerated. Dominion should not be able to take my community and home,” said Canavan.
Charles Station would push gas to the Dominion Cove Point export terminal, new Washington Gas and Light taps, and the embattled Mattawoman Energy Center power plant proposed for Brandywine (although that project is currently listed as “suspended”). Over the last five years, several new gas-fueled power plants have opened in Southern Maryland, and the export terminal has just come online. This runs counter to Marylanders’ opposition to fracking. The gas that would run through Charles Station would not come from Maryland, but it would significantly increase fracking in Pennsylvania. “The cumulative impact of this build-out on climate change and human and environmental health will be severe,” Deborah Buelow of Accokeek said.