“Hands Across the Potomac”: Marylanders and West Virginians Unite Against Pipeline

Shepherdstown, W.Va. — Three hundred and fifty people spanned the James Rumsey bridge between Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Sharpsburg, Md. on Saturday to draw attention to TransCanada’s plan to drill under the Potomac River and lay a gas pipeline.

Holding hands across the entire width of the Potomac River and symbolically connecting the shores of West Virginia and Maryland, the action was a display of unity and resolve to resist gas companies and their backers in elected office. After singing “this land is our land” and reading an indigenous people’s prayer, they threw flowers into the river below.

“Hands Across the Potomac” was organized by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Eastern Panhandle Protectors, Potomac Riverkeepers, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, local farmers and concerned residents in the area. They are all urging Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to reject the project in keeping with the fracking ban legislation he signed last spring.

Environmentalists have joined with local farmers in a growing regional resistance to the project which they say threatens drinking water for over six million downstream, including those in the Washington metropolitan area who depend on the Potomac.

If built, the 3.7-mile Potomac Pipeline—formally known as the Eastern Panhandle Expansion—would connect an existing pipeline in Pennsylvania to the proposed Mountaineer Gas distribution pipeline in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Although two distinct companies are trying to build the pipelines, they are interdependent projects intended to transport and distribute gas to the Eastern Panhandle.

Local farmers are concerned about dangers inherent to a gas pipeline near their homes, its affect on their property values and their ability to farm on their land. They also object to the abuse of eminent domain laws to seize their land.

Patricia Kesecker, a farmer from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said that Mountaineer Gas took her to court to seize an 150-foot-wide path traversing a mile through her 600-acre family farm.

“We need to change the eminent domain law because the writing is too vague, and it is used by the government and big companies to get what they want,” she said.

Her family has worked the land for over 80 years, fifty of which she has farmed with her husband. “Our blood sweat and tears are in that farm,” she said. “If you’ve ever cleared land with briars and sticker bushes, you do end up having blood and tears, because that’s what happens to your fingers,” she said.

Kesecker said that she has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are dependent on the land.

The karst geology at the Potomac crossing is the underlying issue threatening the stability of the project, said Brent Walls of Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. “We have a big risk in our area because of karst geology,” he said. The porous nature of karst could easily allow contaminants to penetrate aquifers. “It is a threat to our rivers and a threat to our drinking water,” he said.

Maryland State Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20) said that the pipeline is a step in the wrong direction for Maryland and just another example of putting corporations over people. “We are at a dire time in our nation’s history with the attacks that are coming from Washington, DC on our environment,” she said.

Wilkins was one of many Maryland delegates who voted to instate a permanent ban on fracking in Maryland. “This pipeline moves us backwards and does not take us to a cleaner, greener future,” she said.

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