This story has been updated with information from Sunoco.
Sunoco Pipeline agreed on Tuesday to pay for public water to be supplied to about 30 homes in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township where water from private wells turned cloudy after a Sunoco pipeline drilling operation for the Mariner East 2 resulted in loss of water pressure or cloudy water for some residents, a township official said.
The company made the commitment at a meeting with township officials on Tuesday morning, said George Turner, a township supervisor. The homes will be connected to the local water line operated by Aqua America.
Turner said details such as how long it would take to make the connections and how long the affected households will be supplied with bottled water or extra filtration systems have yet to be worked out, but that residents will be sent letters explaining the changes later Tuesday.
“We have reached resolution with Sunoco that they will bring public water to all of the affected homes,” he said.
Turner said the company had opted to convert the homes to public water because of an expectation that private well water would remain cloudy.
“It’s going to continue to give the people cloudy water and they are never going to be satisfied,” he said. “We want them to have what they had before Sunoco ever came to town.”
Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said he expects the water impacts to be temporary. He said the company notified West Whiteland Township on June 22 that “groundwater was returning to the surface at our drill site.”
“It is not uncommon for a drill to encounter groundwater, but that does not always translate to well water issues,” wrote Shields in an email. “When the first indications of well water problems came in on July 3 we suspended drilling and grouted the bore hole to fill in any entry points for water – an approved process for addressing these issues – and moved to accommodate residents with water and lodging as desired.”
West Whiteland Supervisor George Turner said that Sunoco informed township officials and the Department of Environmental Protection on June 26 that crews “hit a spring” during drilling for the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which will cross the township on its route from southwest Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook in Delaware County.
The company’s statement about the groundwater returning to the surface came almost two weeks before it publicly acknowledged on July 3 that private well water had been contaminated, and began to supply affected residents with bottled water, extra filtration systems, and offers of local hotels in which to stay or bathe while domestic water supplies were disrupted.
Sunoco says it has tested water from 20 homes, but it has not yet received full results. The company uses bentonite clay as a lubricant in the drilling process, which is non-toxic, but could have caused the cloudy water.
“There is nothing in the bentonite or potable water we use in the drilling process that would make water unsafe,” said Shields.
Neither Sunoco nor township officials would say what tests were run on the resident’s well water. Turbidity is a measure of cloudiness, which is a condition of water, and is not necessarily an indication of toxic substances. The presence of bacteria, chemicals, heavy metals, or volatile organic compounds would have to be determined by lab tests.
Private water wells are not regulated by federal statutes, nor are they regulated by the state of Pennsylvania.
Township Supervisor George Turner said Sunoco responded immediately to reports of cloudy water.
“I called the Sunoco people on Monday, July 3, and within half an hour there was a team of about ten folks up there,” Turner said.
Initial test results from an independent water-testing company began to come in to the township on Tuesday, and unexpectedly showed that the private well water was not contaminated with bentonite clay, also known as drilling mud, Turner said.
“The initial samples we are getting back now, there is no bentonite clay in there. It’s just cloudy water,” he said.