Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP proposes $2.3 million fine for 2008 gasoline spill from Sunoco pipeline

Signs mark a petroleum pipeline.

Hayden Irwin / Flickr

Signs mark a petroleum pipeline.

A 12,000-gallon gasoline spill from a ruptured pipeline in Westmoreland County in 2008 could cost Sunoco Logistics Partners more than $2.3 million in civil penalties from the state.

The Department of Environmental Protection filed a complaint Friday with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board asking it to impose a fine of at least $2.38 million against Sunoco Logistics and its subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline.

The November 2008 spill in Murrysville contaminated Turtle Creek and killed nearly all of the aquatic life in a three-mile stretch of the waterway, triggered evacuations of homes and businesses, and shut down U.S. Route 22 for hours in the community 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. Mistakes during maintenance on the 8-inch interstate pipeline caused a plug to blow out, which “forced the gasoline to fountain twenty (20) to thirty (30) feet into the air” and rain “down onto and into nearby businesses, parking lots, and the surrounding soils and surfaces,” DEP said in its complaint. Federal pipeline regulators said the incident caused $1.1 million in property damage but no injuries.

“This was a major event,” DEP spokesman John Poister said. “Most of the businesses affected had to be decontaminated and did not reopen for a month.”

Sunoco delayed operating a continuous pumping system that regulators had recommended until May 2010, so contaminants in a cutoff trench continued to leach into Turtle Creek long after the initial spill, DEP said in the complaint. Despite Sunoco’s cleanup efforts, regulators found gasoline or its constituent chemicals in groundwater under or near the site on 189 separate occasions between November 2008 and June 2013.

Sunoco has made progress, Poister said, but the site has not yet been completely cleaned up.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said in a statement that the company disputes DEP’s allegations as well as its characterization of the events in the complaint.

“Sunoco Logistics acted quickly, aggressively and responsibly during this event, with human health, safety and protection of the environment our top priorities at all times,” he said. “We look forward to the opportunity to respond to the complaint before the Environmental Hearing Board at the appropriate time.”

DEP calculated the proposed penalty by taking into account several violations of state laws worth $1,985,000 in fines, the $100,000 DEP spent responding to the spill, and an additional $300,000 to deter companies from causing similar problems. DEP also asked the board to consider how much money the companies might have saved as a result of their violations and add it to the penalty, but that amount has not been calculated yet. The hearing board will ultimately determine the size of the fine.

Sunoco has already paid $232,900 to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and $99,000 to the state Fish and Boat Commission to settle violations from the same incident.

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