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Feds OK pipeline expansion

Federal officials have approved construction of a controversial expansion and modernization of an existing natural gas pipeline from Baltimore County into Harford County.

Columbia Gas Transmission said it plans to begin construction of the 21.3 mile pipeline in 2014 with an expected completion date of 2015.

Jimmy D. Staton, chief executive officer of Houston-based Columbia Pipeline Group, said in a statement Monday that the $180 million project “is a critical component of Columbia’s modernization efforts” and that the existing gas line “serves as the backbone of Maryland’s natural gas delivery system.”

The approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows the company to move forward with construction of the line, which stretches from Owings Mills through Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville and terminates in Harford County north of Fallston and Belair.

The project is expected to follow the same path as an existing line until it reaches the Harford County line, where it will shift north to avoid Gunpowder State Park. The existing line passes through that park.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, an opponent of the project, called the decision “a sad day for Maryland.”

Zirkin lives in a neighborhood near the pipeline project, though his property is not directly affected.

Zirkin expressed frustration over the process and what he said was the influence of oil and gas companies.

“This is not easy stuff for communities to fight because oil and gas companies have all the power in these decisions,” Zirkin said, adding that the state has become the proposed site of other projects including hydraulic fracturing, liquid natural gas export facilities and pipeline expansions.

“Maryland has become a battleground for the oil and gas industry and some of us intend to fight that battle,” Zirkin said.

Columbia said in its statement that it had spent 20 months engaging with local communities along the route and said workers from several labor unions would be included in the labor force: the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37, Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 710, Teamsters Local 355 and welders.

It said the purpose of the project was to improve interstate natural gas service reliability for local utilities that serve residents and businesses in Central Maryland and surrounding regions, to reduce vulnerability to outages and to facilitate pipeline safety inspections without disrupting natural gas service.