Congressman Meehan seeks pipeline risk assessment for Mariner East 2

  • Susan Phillips
A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Responding to landowners’ concerns regarding pipeline construction in Delaware and Chester counties, suburban Philadelphia Congressman Pat Meehan (R-7) has asked Gov. Tom Wolf to conduct a risk assessment of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. In a letter to Wolf on Dec. 12, Meehan wrote “a risk assessment would be a welcome and responsible step in providing residents with the information they need to better understand the construction and operation of this pipeline…”

The Mariner East 2 pipeline received its permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in February 2017, after the company failed several attempts to produce completed applications and was repeatedly sent back to the drawing board by DEP. Critics said the permits issued by the administration did not meet standards set by the DEP.

The construction along the 350-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas liquids has since been plagued with problems, including dozens of drilling mud spills. In one case the construction ruined an aquifer in a Chester County community. The pipeline project also resulted in 552,000 gallons of bentonite mud spilled into LeTort Spring Run, an Exceptional Value wetland in Cumberland County. Bentonite is non-toxic, but in large amounts can smother aquatic life.

Sunoco, DEP and several environmental organizations agreed to a settlement in July, approved by Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board.

Drilling resumed in August after Sunoco agreed to a series of water-protection measures including stronger oversight by the DEP. But official data and local reports indicate that water issues have continued in some locations.

Meehan said he was encouraged by the negotiated settlement, but notes the EHB’s order has not stopped the contamination.

“Constituents remain worried about this process following recent reports of undisclosed leaks of drilling fluid and unauthorized methods of drilling,” he wrote.

Meehan said a risk assessment would look at the hazards associated with the pipeline’s operation, including natural gas liquid leaks, which could lead to explosions. The pipeline is scheduled to be operational in 2018.

A spokesman for Gov. Wolf says he would support a risk assessment, but it’s up to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to conduct one.

“Governor Wolf understands local concerns and has worked to address them,” said Governor Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott in an email. “DEP has held Sunoco accountable to permits and laws under their jurisdiction. However, DEP’s role is focused on environmental protections like erosion and sediment control, storm water management from earth-moving activities, and obstructions and encroachments to waterways and wetlands.”

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission says the commissioners are reviewing Congressman Meehan’s request.

Eric Friedman, who lives along the pipeline route and is president of the Andover Homeowners Association and a member of the Middletown Community Coalition for Public Safety, which has been pushing for a risk assessment, praised Meehan’s letter.

“The calls for the Governor to assess the risk have become bipartisan, and rightly so because Sunoco’s project endangers the safety of schools, senior living facilities and residential neighborhoods across Pennsylvania,” he said. “And I think it’s right to step back, halt construction and assess the risks so that we know where we stand with respect to the hazards toward vulnerable dense populations.”

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said the the company goes “above and beyond” state and federal regulations regarding safety, “including pipe thickness and weld inspections, to ensure the safe operation of our pipelines.”

“We have worked closely with all regulatory authorities and are building this pipeline subject to the most stringent environmental regulations that minimize any environmental impacts over the 350-mile length of the Mariner East 2 system.”

This story has been corrected to show that the Mariner East 2 pipeline received permits from the Department of Environmental Protection in February 2017, not 2016.